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Dublin: 5 °C Thursday 20 February, 2020

'I had my big idea while out trekking': How one foodie is changing the game for hungry hikers

Jenn Hurley’s love of the outdoors led to a lightbulb moment.

Jenn Hurley, founder of T4 Adventures.
Jenn Hurley, founder of T4 Adventures.
Image: Iain White - Fennell Photography

“SOMETIMES THE BIGGEST challenge is myself,” says Jenn Hurley. 

But, as the founder of T4 Adventure, a food company created for those who love the outdoors and don’t want to sacrifice on nutrition during their excursions, it’s fair to say that Jenn has never stepped back from a challenge – personal or otherwise. 

Having studied and worked as a chef in her native New York, Jenn decided to make a change in 2016.

“I wanted to go on an adventure and take a break from the chef world of New York,” says Jenn. “Because I’ve citizenship here, have family here and went on holidays here as a kid, I thought, ‘if ever there was a time to go to Ireland, this is it.’”

With a passion for spending time in nature, Jenn planned to set off on a walk around Dingle and the Wild Atlantic Way. However, she encountered a problem when it came to packing food for the trip. 

Any food made for the outdoors didn’t appeal to me at all. It was poor quality, bulky and didn’t taste good.

“I knew products like what I was looking for were on offer in the States, and I wondered why no one was doing it here.”

This, ultimately, was Jenn’s “lightbulb” moment, and led to the creation of T4 Adventure. 

“I wanted to see if I could create better options for food to be enjoyed outdoors. A lot of the products I knew about used plastic packaging, so I wondered if I could do it and use eco-friendly packaging,” she explains.

With the needs of hikers requiring light loads, meal planning and sustainable calorie intake, Jenn created a range of meals which are easily prepared by just adding water – from a veggie stew to chicken tagine. 

To further her idea, Jenn completed a diploma in Specialty Food Production in University College Cork, and participated in the college’s IGNITE programme. 

But, as with any business, going from idea to market wasn’t without its obstacles. 

“A big hurdle was getting access to freeze dryer,” says Jenn. “There’s one in UCC, but obviously students have priority. For the first two years I was trying to get in contact with anyone who has the freeze dryer key at Teagasc.”

It was then that Jenn got in contact with Food Works. A programme supported by Bord Bia, Teagasc and Enterprise Ireland, Food Works helps support up-and-coming Irish food businesses. “It’s the true definition of an accelerator to get off the ground running,” says Jenn.

“Running your own business is great because it can be very self-fulfilling, but it can be hard when there are a lot of plates spinning at the same time.”

“Managing myself and my mental health has been the ultimate challenge,” she adds. 

It’s during times like these that Jenn has learned to ask for help: “The great thing about working with different networks and groups is that I can pick up the phone for help. Just talking it through brings clarity around an idea and helps me to navigate a problem just by getting a second opinion.”

“I’m so grateful for Food Works,” she says. “I love what they’re doing for food companies in Ireland. Doors that I never thought would be open to me have opened as a result of this network and the more I interact with it the more it expands.”

Among those on the other side of the door are Food Works mentors John Stapleton and Joanna Walker. John, who’s co-founder of the New Covent Garden Soup Company and Little Dish, knows a thing or two about starting a business and, through the programme, shares his knowledge with entrepreneurs like Jennifer. 

D23923-0063 L-R Joanna Walker, Programme Mentor; Jenn Hurley, T4 Adventures; John Stapleton, Programme Mentor. Source: Iain White - Fennell Photography

“Wealth of knowledge is the real benefit from this programme,” he says. “It gives you confidence to pitch and to get a good valuation. You start with the unknown and nine months later you are confident and invested.” 

Joanna, on the other hand, offers her experience as a food retail expert, having worked with Marks & Spencer and Sainsburys, and as a buyer.  

“As a mentor we get buddyed up with a company for the programme, we hold their hands, we act as a sounding board,” she says. “The entrepreneurs really appreciate the advice and support that we give them, the confidence that we bring. It can be lonely and challenging and there are hurdles, how they navigate those hurdles is crucial and is the key to success.”

With plans for T4 Adventure products to hit the online market in February/March, and to be in stores by summer, the value that Food Works has offered Jenn is clear. As for another way she overcomes hurdles, Jenn goes back to where it all began.

“Getting outdoors throughout this has helped me to remember why I’m doing this and who I’m doing it for. It’s like pressing a reset button.” 

Food Works is a government supported accelerator programme valued at over €50,000 that helps develop the next generation of scalable and export driven Irish food and drinks businesses. If you have an innovative food or drinks product that satisfies a genuine market need, and an ambition for global success, register now to meet with the Food Works team. 

Source: Bord Bia/YouTube

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