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Talonmore Drinks Company – a young Dundee business success story

Published on 15 December 2021

Despite only graduating in 2020, alumnus Lewis Kennedy has founded his own drinks company against the backdrop of the Covid pandemic

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Lewis spoke to Alumni Engagement Coordinator, Craig Reoch, about his extracurricular experience while he was a student at the University of Dundee and how this helped him establish himself as a businessman and founder of his own company whilst aged only 23. ‘Talonmore Drinks Company Limited’ is a Scottish-based company which aims to shake up the non-alcoholic drinks market.

Lewis had known in school that he wanted to study Product Design at university, and was sold on DJCAD after visiting for the day to see the facilities and meet the staff.

“I always wanted to do Product Design. I had applied to a lot of universities, but I went to the Dundee interview and tour and it blew me away. I was instantly in love with the city and the department. DJCAD is such a hotspot of creativity that I’d never experienced before. It was an instant decision for me.

“Being at DJCAD isn’t like studying other subjects where you would maybe come to class and then you would go home or to the library to study – you have your studio and your course mates become such a huge part of your learning, it’s all so collaborative.”

Lewis Kennedy (second from left, bottom row) and classmates on campus green

One of Lewis’ favourite things about studying in DJCAD was the creative freedom that came with learning.

“Everyone who goes to DJCAD is very independent in their way of thinking and what’s funny about that is that none of us had the same interests. But that was a great thing – I was interested in packaging and sustainability; others were interested in more aesthetic design; others were interested more in the education aspect and how we can teach through design.

 “Not only do you get to do whatever you want, it also means everyone does very different things so you get to see what your course mates do and get inspiration for what you could do the next time. This meant that by the time you get to fourth year you really specialise in what you are interested in.”

Being a musician, everything he designed in his early days was music-based so he initially had to find his feet as a product designer before he was able to discover his likes and dislikes.

“Music was what I knew best, so I would chuck a treble-clef on something I was designing just to make it seem more musical! By the time I graduated, I was specialising in sustainable packaging for the premium spirits industry. It was so different, but I really did develop over that four-year period.”

Lewis Kennedy holding a guitar on a beach

While Lewis was studying at the University of Dundee, he made huge progress in his personal development which taught him the skills needed to create his Talonmore brand. Due to his interest in music, he started off at Dundee University Students’ Association (DUSA) Media’s ‘JAM Radio’ - one of their four media outlets. Lewis eventually became the Station Manager and coordinated multiple weekly student radio shows, as well as organising and taking part in a 55-hour continuous radio marathon to raise money for charity. This experience helped him learn how to work with others and run a business.

You think it’s just radio but I learned about structure, how to delegate tasks and how to process the paperwork which goes behind broadcasting. It really changed my perspective and helped me to develop my skills so I could focus on bigger pictures”.

Lewis Kennedy sitting in the Jam Radio studio on city campus

Lewis also became an active student representative at DUSA and across the wider University. Prior to starting his third year, he campaigned for and was elected into the position of DJCAD School President, which is a complex role where he had to work closely with both the School staff and students to help improve the student experience.

It was a lot more committee-focussed and involved learning how changes are made on a large scale. I also had to manage a team and work with different departments which was so informative and helped define who I am as a businessperson.”

His interest in the drinks industry and his new goal of working in that field was piqued as he began working with various Scottish distilleries for some of his coursework.

“As part of my course, I worked with Glenfiddich and Aberlour in different packaging briefs. That showed me the significance of premium spirits in Scotland and how much they affect the economy. Whisky is the definitive Scottish drink – there’s a definite patriotic aspect to it all. I’m also interested in the history of these brands. A lot of them stretch back to the 1700s – I often sit and wonder how people knew how to put all these components in a barrel and leave it for ten years back then!”.

Lewis was able to visit some distilleries and was compelled by the passion for the industry. This led him to becoming founder of his own drinks business – ‘Talonmore Drinks Company Ltd’. He attributes a lot of his drive to start the business from the skills he learnt during his extracurricular experiences at the University of Dundee.:

“I’d learnt from all of these experiences – JAM Radio, the School Presidency and my work with distilleries – I learnt how to put all these experiences into one and used those skills to build my idea. In DJCAD, Jackie Malcolm, Frances Stevenson and Jeanette Paul were just amazing, and they pushed me to the Centre for Entrepreneurship.”

Composite photo showing Lewis using his product design bottle design at a "bar!

The Centre for Entrepreneurship – located right in the heart of campus – is an entrepreneurial hub where students and staff are encouraged to develop their business potential and are helped to bring their innovations to life. Lewis first applied for their ‘Enterprise Challenge’ which is an eight-week skills programme culminating in a final where the winning idea is awarded £1500.

“It was great as you learn so much about things such as branding, finances and intellectual property. I knew nothing going in – I didn’t know there was a difference between net profit and gross profit. If I was speaking to someone outside of the University who is involved in business, they would think I had no idea what I was doing! It was great to have that class to teach me everything in a really engaging way.”

Talonmore as an idea came about as Lewis had developed such a keen interest in the premium spirit’s market. He realised that alcohol was not making him productive.

“A lot of us enjoy drinking alcohol from time to time, especially at university. But I came to realise I didn’t need the alcohol to enjoy myself or to socialise with friends. I did a lot of research into the non-alcoholic spirits market and I realised it is growing exponentially. Having a good time isn’t always about getting drunk. Often we want drink to enjoy the taste of the thing we are drinking and to socialise better.”

The idea stemmed simply from the fact that he enjoyed whisky but there were no non-alcoholic whiskies. Lewis took his thoughts to the Centre for Entrepreneurship who dissected the idea and helped him to work out what may or may not work. It then took 18 months to fully form what the company was going to look like. Talonmore began its venture to subvert the idea that socialising has to be paired with alcohol and to replicate the experience of drinking a dark spirit instead of settling for water.

Lewis Kennedy holding an award, with Sean Mochan holding a bottle of gin outside the V&A Dundee

Sean Mochan from NFU Mutual presents Lewis with an Inspirational Young Person Award

Businesses are in a constant development stage. We’ve gone through customer surveying and customer sampling. We are now at the stage where we have just closed our 2nd funding round and we have some incredible investors on board. Now we are working on brand awareness. We are selling on our online shop, talonmoredrinks.com. We are working with bars and restaurants who are looking to collaborate with non-alcoholic brands as it’s clear they are here to stay. We are also looking to have some ambassadors which is very exciting.”

“We spent six months coming up with just the name, it was enough to drive you crazy. But now when I think of it - Talonmore - it just sounds so obvious. That’s the perfect name for us. It wasn’t easy coming up with it.”

DJCAD was the perfect creative hotspot to nourish Lewis’ business acumen and gave him the skills he needed to make his idea come to life.

Tell us your alumni story

Get in touch with us if you have started your own business too and feel Dundee gave you the skills you needed to do that. We would love to hear from you and celebrate your success.

Email alumni@dundee.ac.uk
Enquiries

Craig Reoch

Careers Adviser

+44 (0)1382 384741

creoch001@dundee.ac.uk
Story category Alumni