Press release

6 Sep 2019 Auckland, NZ

EY Entrepreneur of the Year category winners announced

New Zealand’s top entrepreneurs were announced by EY yesterday, representing the breadth, depth and tenacity of some fantastic businesses across the country.

From a zero-waste beauty brand, baby care products, e-commerce influencers through to intelligent transportation systems and technology solutions for the film industry, all of this year’s category winners have harnessed their passion to do and make things better. But while their businesses are very different provide vastly different, they all share an insatiable drive and never say die attitude when it comes to delivering the best for their customers and their communities.

They are outstanding Kiwis, contributing millions of dollars to the economy, providing employment to hundreds of people and showcasing New Zealand’s entrepreneurship and innovation on the world stage.

This year’s winners were chosen following a rigorous judging process that began with sixteen outstanding finalists.

The head of the independent judging panel, Bill Day, Founder and Chairman of Seaworks, and previous EY Entrepreneur of the Year said:

“Overall, we’ve seen a change in finalists and category winners that represents New Zealand culture. There is greater diversity and pace – as tech continues to grow and businesses can be taken to the world much sooner than years ago, there is an increasing trend to grow by crowdfunding or investors.

“I’m also noticing that younger people are more likely to swap ownership for speed of growth for their business. These businesses are much more likely to have global reach and ability to take their product to the world – the tyranny of distance is overcome.”

This year’s category winners are:




Brianne West


Young Entrepreneur


Grant Taylor


Rascal and Friends NZ Limited


Murray Holdaway


Vista Group


Mohammed Hikmet



HMI Technologies


Technology and Emerging Industries

Gavin Yang



Trademonster Limited


The judges also wanted to acknowledge the great work done by Olie Body and her social enterprise, the Wā Collective. The Wā Collective gives women tools to make informed decisions about their menstrual management, uterine health and environment.

Darren White – Director of the EY Entrepreneur of the Year program said:

“A trend of social good and sustainability has dominated the theme this year. Purpose is more important than ever and this passion is injected into their approach to business – if they grow, their impact grows. Year on year, we continue to see more young people telling their story and sharing their ambition; I hope this encourages more young entrepreneurs to apply and be inspired by the likes of the current Entrepreneur of the year, Nick Mowbray, who was 33 when he won.”

From here, the five category winner will go onto compete for New Zealand’s EY Entrepreneur of the Year for 2019 and then it’s on to Monaco to compete for the title of World Entrepreneur of the Year next June.



2019 NZ EY Entrepreneur of the Year Category Winners

Brianne West, Ethique

Brianne West’s business, Ethique, was born seven years ago out of a desire to challenge an entire industry sector to implement change. As the world’s first (and still only) full-range beauty brand to be zero-waste, Ethique’s solid bar formulas have prevented more than 3.4 million plastic bottles from being made and disposed in landfills worldwide.

“I started Ethique because the beauty and cosmetics industry needed a shake-up. We have to stop transferring responsibility for saving our environment onto consumers. Businesses need to lead the way and become responsible for the entire lifecycle of their products,” says Brianne.

Brianne has always been ambitious for Ethique. When asked about her goals after just a couple of years in business she replied: “global domination”. From her home kitchen, she set out to create a billion-dollar business and is on track to achieve this by 2024.

But while financial growth is important, it’s never been the driving purpose for Ethique. It’s essential to Brianne that the business is sustainable in every sense of the word, with no compromises on environmental sustainability or animal welfare. As a result, all Ethique products are vegan, animal cruelty-free and palm oil-free. In addition, the business is carbon neutral, a living wage employer, sources Fairtrade where possible and is New Zealand’s highest scoring B Corp.

Financial sustainability has been addressed too. Thanks to angel investors and two crowdfunding campaigns, the business is cash positive and carries no debt, with manufacturing capacity secured for five years of forecast growth. This growth is largely spearheaded by international retail distribution agreements, with stockists predicted to grow from 900 at the start of FY19 to nearly 6,000 by FY20. 

Brianne remains Ethique’s formulator extraordinaire, determining each new recipe for a product range that includes hair care, body wash, baby products, face creams and pet shampoo. With effectiveness top of mind, Ethique makes it easy for its customers to #giveupthebottle.

Grant Taylor, Rascal + Friends

Sometimes it’s the twists and turns of life that lead you to where you need to be. That’s certainly the case with Grant Taylor, founder of challenger nappy brand Rascal + Friends. From being a goat farmer in regional New Zealand, to running a landscaping team in Melbourne, through to starting a mobile storage business at the tail end of the global financial crisis, diverse experiences have moulded Grant’s experience of motivating staff and being a leader.

“My biggest lesson was to take the emotion out of a business model and hit the biggest part of the market with a point of difference,” says Grant.

With Rascal + Friends, from day one Grant had a vision that the nappy category could be different. He saw a gap in the market to supply a product that was marketed towards parents – the purchasers – rather than babies. Instead of the cartoon-driven imagery of competitors, Rascal + Friends opted for a kiss pattern on an on-trend, unisex mint green background colour.

Given Rascal + Friends’ target audience – millennial parents – Grant also successfully tapped into their love of social media to drive marketing. He also extended this ethos to recruitment, with the majority of employees within the target demographic. “It’s worked very well for us,” says Grant. “You need to realise when someone you employ has a better idea than you and is more in touch with what you are trying to achieve.”

Using an exclusive retail distribution strategy through Foodstuffs in New Zealand, Rascal + Friends has grown to be the number two nappy in the country despite being in less than half the number of outlets as their main competitor. The business has now expanded to Australia, Canada, UK, Ireland, Singapore, Thailand and Mongolia – with more countries to come.

Murray Holdaway, Vista Group

Where others see challenges, Murray Holdaway sees opportunities. His business, Vista Group, has grown to be the leading supplier of cinema and film industry software worldwide with a market capitalisation exceeding NZ$1 billion as of June 2019.

“One of the key elements of my success is being pragmatic and commercial enough to evaluate which opportunities to attack and what to leave for another day,” says Murray.

Right from the start, Murray set his sights on gaining global market share. A combination of a quality product together with self-belief, ignoring the status quo and rejecting boundaries made this vision a reality. Vista Group now has more than 40% market share of the enterprise cinema market (circuits running more than 20 screens). The company operates in multiple markets, including India, Brazil, Germany, USA, UK, New Zealand and Australia.

A key factor in Vista’s success has been Murray’s extreme customer focus. As result, more than 90 customers have been with Vista for more than a decade – extraordinary in an industry where enterprise software is usually replaced every five years.

Of course, as with any business seeking to change the way things are done, there have been projects that weren’t as successful as hoped. “But the people involved in those projects are never criticised or marginalised,” says Murray. “We’ve created an environment where people are not afraid to come forward with new ideas.”

Murray also actively gives back to the community, founding the Vista Foundation in 2015 to assist young and emerging New Zealand film makers. He volunteers with several community groups and together with his wife, Helen Geary, established the Awhero Nui Trust with an eight-figure founding donation to focus on education and poverty reduction. He is also an active angel investor, currently investing in two start-ups.

Mohammed Hikmet, HMI Technologies

Mohammed Hikmet is one of those people with determination at his core, seeing through restrictions and challenging situations to find the opportunities that lie beyond. Born in Iraq, Mohammed ran a computer shop with his brother, Ahmed. But, when the Gulf War started, he knew it was time to leave to seek a better future for his family, creating a business in Jordan before ultimately relocating to New Zealand.

“Coming from a war-torn country, I’m now a proud Kiwi, with a diverse and inclusive company that reflects what I see in New Zealand,” says Mohammed.

In 1996, Mohammed moved to New Zealand with his family, completing an electronic engineering diploma at AIT while delivering pizzas at night. By 1998, he’d started a computer repair business, with Ahmed joining him in 1999. The business evolved to manufacture electronic road signs in 2002, establishing ties with Chinese factories. Mohammed eventually spent four years in China founding his own factory to ensure quality in the supply chain.

In 2015, Mohammed realised that the likely emergence of autonomous vehicles would eventually reduce the need for road signs and visual communication with drivers. “If we wanted to stay relevant, I decided we needed to build our knowledge of autonomous vehicles,” says Mohammed.

This led to him forming a consortium, in January 2017, with Christchurch Airport, Christchurch City Council, Canterbury University, Ministry of Transport and NZTA to bring the first autonomous vehicle to Australasia.

After invitations to partner with vehicle manufacturers to create cooperative applications were rejected, Mohammed chose to create his own opportunity. He established an AI team with the goal to build his own autonomous vehicle in New Zealand. After nine months of development, HMI Technologies achieved the first commercial delivery of a New Zealand autonomous vehicle in 2019.

Gavin Yang, Trademonster

It’s no secret that the Chinese market has a near insatiable appetite for quality products from New Zealand. But accessing that market has often been full of pitfalls for brands that aren’t used to doing business in China. In 2014, Gavin Yang established Trademonster as “the gateway to China” – a business that helps New Zealand companies connect with China, streamlining logistics and marketing in a cost-effective platform.

“New Zealand’s environment provides us with a unique competitive advantage in the global market,” says Gavin. “But tapping into the lucrative China market can be difficult without the right support in place.”

With its professional cross-border trade and supply chain services, Trademonster helps New Zealand companies to capitalise on demand for their high quality and safety-conscious products. The business has achieved rapid growth in the cross-border eCommerce sector. Now representing more than 150 New Zealand brands in the China market, Trademonster has achieved nearly 200% annual revenue growth since 2016 and is aiming to reach NZ$100 million in revenue by 2020.

In addition to its own growth, Trademonster’s strategic partnerships are helping to create local employment opportunities. Trademonster has sent more than two million international parcels through New Zealand Post and continues to collaborate closely with the government-owned organisation. Trademonster also works with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, as well as being a key partner for New Zealand Hui Maori Collective and New Zealand Food Basket Project to help open flagship stores in China.

Thanks to Trademonster’s advanced logistics systems, including custom-designed operational software, local brands can ship from Auckland to an end user in China in an average of just four days, setting a high standard for global parcel delivery. “By providing a complete trade and eCommerce service for New Zealand brands, we’re an important pathway for local businesses to enter the global market,” says Gavin.

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 New Zealand 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 1,500 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

EY is a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services. The insights and quality services we deliver help build trust and confidence in capital markets and in economies the world over. We develop outstanding leaders who team to deliver on our promises to all of our stakeholders. In so doing, we play a critical role in building a better working world for our people, for our clients and for our communities.

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This news release has been issued by Ernst & Young New Zealand, a member firm of Ernst & Young Global Limited.


Melanie Kent

EY Oceania Media Relations

Ernst & Young

Tel: 0407 052 670