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Ulster Business

Entrepreneur of the Month: Vernon Fox of Lough Neagh Distillers

We speak to Vernon Fox of Lough Neagh Distillers

How is business?

Business is definitely very good. Lough Neagh Distillers is really taking off and I’m very busy with my role as European lead for Digital Asset Delivery, an Australian software house currently setting up a base in Europe. The acceleration of both projects at the same time has made for an interesting period, with organisations securing key strategic clients. It’s a nice complaint to have.

How did you get started in the industry?

The opportunity to get into distilling and brewing was introduced to me a few years back while studying my MBA at Trinity College Dublin. I have a keen interest in Irish history and specifically how industry shaped the island. My hometown of Lurgan often gets some underserved stick – but if you look at its history and significance through the centuries, it was a leading hub for multiple industries, including distilling and brewing. For my professional career, I also studied information management and politics at Queen’s University Belfast. I’ve always held a keen interest in IT. I secured my first job with Mivan through its graduate training programme and over my 20-year career, I’ve been lucky to work in amazing cities around the world.

Typically, who are your clients or customers?

Around 90% of our beer and spirts production will be for export, with an initial focus on the US market. Our sales land in Pennsylvania in the next few months and will rapidly extend our reach across the eastern US states. On the IT side, our key clients are large scale multinationals, utilities and operators. We’re currently working with some of the largest companies on the island and our reach into Europe is already promising. Busy times.

Do you enjoy what you do, and what in particular?

I’m extremely lucky that the team at Lough Neagh Distillers need little direction and while my IT role consumes most of my time, I love the energy and creativity that both projects provide. Notwithstanding, I really enjoy the pace and excitement of a business in start-up mode. Digital Asset Delivery is now more established, and I’m pleased to be supported by a great team in Perth while we’re building our team in Europe.

What is the most difficult part of your job?

Juggling all the tasks – there are sometimes not enough hours in the day, particularly when things ramp up. But it’s great fun.

What are the challenges facing your sector, and the economy in general?

I think some parts of the software sector can struggle from too much ‘bling’ – too many products that can’t deliver on their promise. Ultimately, they become counterproductive. Breaking the mould with a disruptive technology such as ours is a challenge of mindset. I find that organisations which benefit the most are those with an open mindset and ready to tackle things head on. In brewing and distilling, there are licensing challenges and we would be keen to see reform in this area. This sector has a huge visitor appeal and there are mutually beneficial opportunities to be had for both the sector and the tourism industry at large. All said, there are plenty of opportunities ahead and I’m excited and energised to take them on.