2017’s top Victorian entrepreneurs revealed

Friday, 11 August 2017

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The top Victorian entrepreneurs have taken home honors from the 2017 Entrepreneur of the Year™ Southern Region awards ceremony held last night in Melbourne. Seven finalists were chosen from an outstanding field of entrepreneurs to go through to the next round of the 2017 program. These are:

  • Michelle Aznavorian – Misha Collection
  • Thor Essman – Versent
  • Ray Malone – AMA Group
  • Tony and Sharon Rechtman – Total Beauty Network
  • Andrew Walsh – IRESS
  • Mark Woodland – Xplor

Also recognised in non-competitive regional award categories were:

  •  Social Entrepreneur - Alexie Seller, Pollinate Energy
  • Champion of Entrepreneurship – Gillian Franklin, The Heat Group

The national finalists and social entrepreneur will go on to represent the Southern Region at the national awards in November where they will compete for the title of 2017 Australian Entrepreneur of the Year™.   

The overall 2017 winner will be named at a gala ceremony in Melbourne on 1 November 2017. The national winner will then go on to represent the country and compete in the EY World Entrepreneur of the Year™ awards in Monte Carlo next June, following in the footsteps of 2015 winner Many Stul, Chairman and Co-CEO of toy company Moose Enterprises who became the first ever Australian to with the title of EY World Entrepreneur of the Year™.

Melbourne Managing Partner, Ernst & Young Australia, Gerard Dalbosco, said this year’s Southern Region finalists demonstrate the quality and value of Victoria’s uniquely entrepreneurial community.

“Victoria has a long history of supporting start-ups who go on to achieve great success and we are confident that this year’s group will succeed at Nationals this year.” 

“Entrepreneurs follow their dreams, sometimes at great cost, which shows us what we can all achieve if we put our minds to it. They teach us the value of thinking outside the box.  They act swiftly, seizing opportunities to give customers what they want. 

“Entrepreneurs create jobs and push the economy forward.  They are a vital part of the business environment.  That’s why EY has a long-standing commitment to fostering entrepreneurship and continuing to grow this vibrant community year on year. “

EY Entrepreneur of the Year™ is considered one of the world’s most prestigious business awards and is the only truly global program of its kind with entrepreneurs participating in 145 cities in more than 60 countries.  More than 1,500 outstanding entrepreneurs have been recognised through the EY Entrepreneur of the Year™ program in Australia since 2001.

For more information on EY Entrepreneur of the Year™ go to www.ey.com/au/eoy

EY Entrepreneur of the Year National finalists, Southern Region

Michelle Aznavorian – Misha Collection
Michelle Aznavorian arrived on the fashion scene four years ago as a 24 year old with her own label, making an instantaneous splash in the world of haute couture.

She has since designed a second line for an older audience and seen her profile grow exponentially. Her clothing line is now stocked at some of the best stores in the world, including, Saks, Revolve, the Iconic and Selfridges.

More significantly, it has forged its brand in one of the most competitive industries in the world and been taken up by a number of celebrity adopters.

Judges’ comments
“Michelle is succeeding in a mature and highly competitive industry. She has strong business acumen, real sense of design trends and an in-depth understanding of her target markets, as shown through her leveraging of social media.”

Thor Essman – Versent
Thor Essman, CEO & Founder of Versent Pty Ltd (Versent), has over 24 years of experience in business leadership, technology transformation, culture change and enterprise delivery. 

Versent has disrupted the enterprise IT consulting market through its innovative fixed-price, fixed-outcome business model. It has a unique ability to deliver better outcomes on a shorter delivery cycle compared to the large IT consulting firms’ operating model.

Servicing 78 large corporate and government customers, clients include 12 ASX top 20 companies, three telcos in the Asia Pacific region and multiple state government agencies. Versent was ranked seventh in the 2016 BRW list of fastest growing companies and has been named Amazon Web Services Consulting Partner for 2017.

Judges’ comments
“Thor is confident and focused on pragmatic, practical and cost contained ways to solve the software issues of big companies. He was prepared to take on risk and back himself by pioneering fixed price contracts in the industry. He is committed to rebuilding the Australia software industry.”

Ray Malone – AMA Group
Ray Malone, AMA Group chair is a self-made man. His business provides services to the wholesale vehicle aftercare and accessories market. It recorded revenues of $264 million in 2015/2016 and has approximately 85 sites across Australia.

When Ray became CEO of AMA Group in 2009 the company was on the verge of failure. As a minority shareholder he called an extraordinary general meeting, replaced the board and removed $20 million in debt by converting some of it into equity. These steps gave him room to move to shake up the business.

Ray continues to grow the company through acquisitions and has a vision to build a $1 billion business.

Judges’ comments
“Ray is a self-made man who brings integrity and ambition to his business. Ray’s high standards and strong personal values drive the business and the way he goes about finding unique solutions.”

Tony and Sharon Rechtman – Total Beauty Network
Tony and Sharon Rechtman decided a decade ago that the cosmetics industry was elitist, overly expensive and dominated by multi-nationals. On the back of a napkin they put together a business plan to take them on.

The result was Total Beauty Network, created as an affordable local competitor to big-name brands. The company has strong ethics, with all brands being free of toxins, certified Vegan and Cruelty Free. Additionally, Total Beauty Network’s INIKA range is certified organic.

It now sells in over 3500 retailers across 30+ countries globally and will expand into the US this year.

Judges’ comments
Tony and Sharon have a positive can do attitude and believe “no doesn’t mean no”. They are retail savvy, have embedded a strong sales and marketing culture in the business and are on target to reach the millennial market through a strong global focus.”

Andrew Walsh – IRESS
Andrew Walsh founded market leading financial planning software XPLAN and joined IRESS when it acquired XPLAN Technology in 2003. He developed the start-up, become IRESS’ CEO in 2009 and has since led the growth of the group.

IRESS is one of the market leaders in financial markets and wealth management, with a growing presence internationally. 47% of group revenue is derived outside Asia-Pacific.

Under Andrew's leadership, market capitalisation has doubled to $2 billion and last financial year it achieved $77 million profit before tax from annual revenues of $389 million. The company has a strong culture of giving and causes are chosen by IRESS’ people and led by local teams.

Judges’ comments
“Andrew turned a technology platform used in the financial services sector into a highly successful business while building and maintaining a culture of innovation. The entrepreneurial spirit has been proudly maintained and continues to thrive in a big company.”

Mark Woodland – Xplor
Mark Woodland joined his mother in her new childcare business after he left the army in 2010, devising an idea for an app-based sign-in for children enrolled at childcare centres.

He developed Woodland Education’s three childcare centres to a $22 million business servicing 850 families. In January 2016, he sold Woodland Education to focus on Xplor.

Xplor is one of the first apps to integrate iBeacon technology, which allows parents to automatically sign their children in and out of a childcare centre through bluetooth-enabled smart phones.

The business services around 200,000 users in the childcare space. Xplor has recently been implemented in some of Australia’s top private schools as part of a beta programme. Xplor has 300 schools waiting to use their software.

Judges’ comments
Mark’s army training and perseverance has given him the resilience and drive to help him succeed at a young age. Mark saw a gap in the child care market after experiencing the amount of business administration required while working at his mother’s child care centres. A true problem solver Mark was willing to take a risk to develop an innovative app solution that has had great success.”

2017 EY Entrepreneur Of The Year award recipients, Southern Region

Social entrepreneur
Alexie Seller – Pollinate Energy
When Alexie Seller became aware of the energy poverty facing many communities in the world, she took a 75% pay cut to become a founding member of Pollinate Energy, a female-led social enterprise based in Australia and India.

Pollinate Energy brings life-changing clean energy products to India's urban slum communities. The social venture began as a solar lights trial in a northern Bangalore community, replacing dangerous kerosene lamps. Since then, its range of clean energy products has grown to include water filters, cooking stoves, solar fans and mobile phones.

Pollinate also runs programs to train the future social leaders of Australia.

Champion of Entrepreneurship
Gillian Franklin – Heat Doward
Gillian Franklin is the founder and Managing Director of The Heat Group. Gillian is acknowledged as one of Australia’s most innovative entrepreneurs with broad experience in creating and growing brands, as well as considerable Board directorship contribution.

Born in South Africa, Gillian immigrated to Australia in 1980 with only $200 in her pocket. After 20 years of corporate life with many outstanding achievements, Gillian formed Heat. At the outset Gillian raised capital, established a blue chip board and after initially working out of a coffee shop with a small team of two, secured the distribution rights for the Procter & Gamble beauty brands, Max Factor and CoverGirl. The P&G decision catapulted Heat into a medium-sized organisation overnight. Over the past 17 years, the Heat business has grown through strategic acquisitions, in-house brand development, and increased distribution. Heat today employs around 160 people, with over 100 brands in the portfolio, selling to more than 7000 retailers.

Gillian is known for her passion for supporting women in the workplace, and is often found sharing her business experience, leadership skills, financial acumen, strategic thinking, and values-based lessons, through formal and informal mentoring initiatives.

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About EY Entrepreneur Of The YearTM
EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ is the world’s most prestigious business award for entrepreneurs. The award makes a difference through the way it encourages entrepreneurial activity among those with potential, and recognises the contribution of people who inspire others with their vision, leadership and achievement. As the first and only truly global award of its kind, EY Entrepreneur Of The Year celebrates those who are building and leading successful, growing and dynamic businesses, recognising them through regional, national and global awards programs in more than 145 cities in more than 60 countries.

The Australian Entrepreneur Of The Year awards program, launched in 2001, is conducted in five regions culminating in the national awards. The program honours entrepreneurs whose ingenuity and perseverance have created and sustained successful, growing business ventures. Entrepreneur Of The Year’s primary objective is to identify, acknowledge and celebrate the outstanding contribution entrepreneurs make to the Australian business community and economy.

EY encourages women to apply to enter the Entrepreneur Of The Year awards. The program supports women entrepreneurs to think bigger, gain access to capital, enhance their business profile, network, learn from their peers and find seasoned advisors.

The Australian Entrepreneur Of The Year program now has alumni of over 1,400 entrepreneurs who have participated in the program. Since the program’s inception more than 15,000 people have attended Entrepreneur Of The Year events and award ceremonies in Australia.

About EY
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