Damien Kennedy CEO & Co-Founder of WheyHey healthy food & drinks gives IIBN a taste of the effort it takes to become a success in the food sector.
Give a brief description of your company.
We develop and sell delicious healthy food & drinks – delicious taste, high in protein and naturally sugar free.
How did you get the idea/ concept for your business?
I have a background in Physiology and was home in Cork one weekend and saw some of the so called “health foods” my mam was eating. I was very frustrated with how big food companies were marketing their “healthier” ranges – so I bought an ice cream machine online and began to develop a sugar free, low calorie high protein ice cream.
Give a brief account of your education background.
MSc in Human Performance – Physiology & Biomechanics.
Did you always know/ever think you would become an entrepreneur when you were younger?
I think so. I started an online coaching business to pay for University. My dad was a small business owner so it was nothing out of the ordinary to debate business issues and hear about the struggles of business at the kitchen table.
Is entrepreneurship a common trait in your family?
My dad was a business owner for the majority of his career.
Did you have prior knowledge of the industry before setting up your company?
Food & Drink is one of those industries that everybody has an opinion on – we all eat, we all make decisions walking through supermarkets about marketing, packaging, pricing etc. So in that sense yes. The difficulties of dragging an F&B business through start up hit me like a punch in the face. The unbelievable highs and crushing lows – the battles (financial, physical, mental) associated with building an F&B brand are huge and on-going. Its such a fast moving industry.
What was your previous work experience (if any)?
Do you think this gave you an advantage when setting up your business? I was a sport scientist in professional sport.
How did you initially fund your business? (self-funded, government funding, etc)
I sold everything I owned and moved into a friends apartment, sleeping on the floor for 12 months to try to get the business off the ground. We then raised funds through a group of angel investors.
Looking back, would you have changed the method of funding you chose?
No, we have a brilliant group of angel investors who have been incredibly supportive and challenging. When you put your soul into a business, you need good people around you when things don’t go to plan (which happens regularly with start ups!)
What characteristics do you feel benefited you most when starting your business?
Not knowing what lay ahead and how hard the journey actually is. I’m an eternal optimist, very resilient and tend to remain calm under severe pressure.
What is your opinion on the importance of a professional network for an entrepreneur?
Crucial – I started in the industry without a network. The IIBN, and the Future Leader programme in particular have been incredible for me both personally and professionally.
Would you ever consider starting another company or involving yourself in new start-ups again?
Ask me again in a few years – we’re still battling along the road at Wheyhey, with a long road ahead. We have lots of exciting opportunities and initiatives to implement, along with the challenges and pitfalls they bring.
If you had one piece of advice for a new entrepreneur, what would it be?
Surround yourself with great people