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Ulster University Business School has enlisted the help of a global expert in food marketing, Professor Thomas Kennedy, as part of its new Agri-Food Business Development Centre, aimed at addressing a shortfall in skills and encouraging innovation in Northern Ireland’s biggest industry.

The agri-food sector contributes £4bn to the local economy and employs over 21,000 people.

Prof. Mark Durkin, Executive Dean at the university’s business school notes that over 40% of those workers do not have qualifications, which he says presents challenges for the industry.

Philadelphia-based Professor Tom Kennedy, who has 25 years’ experience with US agri-food businesses, has been brought in as the centre’s first Entrepreneur in Residence, helping to forge ties with industry and mentor staff, students and industry professionals in areas such a marketing and business strategy.

Professor Tom Kennedy

Professor Mark Durkin, Executive Dean of Ulster University Business School said the role will fill a “much–needed gap to help the sector pursue its aims of achieving sustained business growth, finding new markets and creating a meaningful research agenda.”

“Professor Tom Kennedy is internationally respected for his expertise in the areas of food marketing, selling strategies, agribusiness, supply chain, food safety and security, and business strategy and management,” he said adding, “His experience both in the food industry and as an educator, including five years as a Visiting Professor at Ulster University, will make a major contribution to enabling our local government, businesses and agri-food sector employees to think and act in a more entrepreneurial way.”

Professor Kennedy addressed a group of small business owners at his inaugural lecture in Belfast on Tuesday evening. He said, “The global food and agribusiness industry is experiencing transformational changes. Ulster University’s news Centre for Agri-Food Business Development is designed to provide the necessary education, skill-sets, research and resources in this challenging environment. From farm to fork, the centre will offer partnerships between government, industry and academia, sparking an innovative and a well-prepared workforce to lead in this dynamic marketplace.”

The Entrepreneur in Residence role is one of five new roles being created to support the new Centre. Ulster University Business School have plans to recruit four more professors in the area of agri-food business to help support the work of this new centre.