Announcing the 2015 EY Entrepreneur Of The Year Category Winners

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This year’s category winners are influential – they are creating jobs, contributing significantly to GDP growth and boosting innovation.

Six New Zealand entrepreneurs have taken top position in their respective categories and now compete for national honours at the Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards on Thursday 15 October at the Langham Hotel, Auckland.

The category winners are:

Congratulations to all our category winners. Find out more about each of these exceptional entrepreneurs below.

Progressive by name and nature, Craig Hickson's fresh, innovative ways have left their mark on the New Zealand agribusiness landscape.

At high school Craig Hickson had the hankering that he would, one day, work for himself. Doing exactly what wasn’t necessarily on the agenda. At Massey University he originally signed up for a science degree. A grant from Hawkes Bay Farmers Meat Company changed his focus to Food Technology as did summer employment at their plant.

After graduation he worked for the New Zealand Meat Producers Board expanding his knowledge and giving him a fuller perspective of the meat industry. To complement his food engineering qualification Craig achieved a BA in Marketing and Economics.

He was now ready to embark on his own projects looking for new business ways in what was then one of the country’s most traditional industries.

Craig saw a meaty export opportunity packing frozen lamb chops and using what was then a new ‘skin pack’ technology. His initial idea was to ‘piggy back’ his production off an already operating, and licensed, facility. He got close to signing deals with a number of parties only to see them to go to what they perceived were greener pastures.

Undaunted Craig made contact with a Hawkes Bay cold store business that was in the middle of its own building project. After discussions the investment syndicate agreed to build him a premise for lease adjacent to the cold store where he could run his operation and achieve synergies with a cold store operation just through the wall.

Colleagues at the Meat Board, and even a financial advisor, cautioned him about the folly of his plans. The roadside, they said, is littered with the carcases of people who have gone before you.

Ignoring the doom and naysayers, Craig and his wife launched Progressive Meats. A team of six processed frozen lamb for export. Through smart financing options, technological innovation, and building strategic relationships along the supply chain, his empire expanded.

Today it is an integrated business involved in venison, lamb and beef farming, procurement, slaughter, processing, value adding and export.

The associated companies for which Craig is a significant shareholder employs over 2000 people. 100% of its production is bound for markets in France, the United Kingdom, China, the United States, Japan, the EU, Saudi Arabia, Russia, India and Hong Kong.

Through Magic Memories John Wikstrom has built a global business that’s all about making people smile.

Unless you’re offering the holiday from hell, a key by-product of tourism is creating attractions, and moments, that give people joy.

Capturing those moments—as a service to venue operators and especially their customers—is the reason Magic Memories exists.

The business started in 1995 in one of New Zealand’s pre-eminent tourist locations, Queenstown. It was at the famed Gondola attraction that John Wikstrom first discovered the potential to create a business out of selling evidence of people’s happiness right after an amazing experience.

Getting the support of other venues such as Shotover Jet and AJ Hackett Bungy made one thing very clear. High intensity, often once-in-a-lifetime experiences for tourists earn a very high sell through rate of photo, and video, memories at a great rate of return.

Having the ‘service’ foresight to have the finished photographic product ready for purchase once people had come back from their experience made the ‘ca-ching’ of the sales till keep on ringing. And it’s never stopped. By 2014 more than 50 million photographs were taken, and uploaded, and income soared accordingly.

Magic Memories’ goal is to redefine the tourism photography industry. The business offers tailored photography experiences and products to the guests of 100-plus tourism attractions throughout Asia, Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. The business is serviced by 90 staff in New Zealand and currently 900 worldwide.

Rather than just photographs the product becomes a personal souvenir of a smile-inducing experience. John works closely with each venue partner to make sure the Magic Memories association also brings smiles to their brand and balance sheets.

A real innovation has been the development of customer-centric content from each venue that could then be digitally enhanced to create visual stories customers couldn’t achieve themselves.

Capturing magical moments at world-famous venues around the world such as Football Club Barcelona and Madame Tussauds has been one measure of success. Identifying the right people to deliver the magical memory has been another.

The business has invested significant time and financial resources to create leaders, and leadership practices, across the organisation. Developing a standardised program—MOJO—to ensure mentorship and training programmes are working, and that the culture is consistent and repeatable, also keeps the magic alive.

The fruits of Hamish Kennedy’s cool technology are keeping the world of fresh produce on-track

A more modern manifestation of the Biblical concept of separating wheat from chaff is Compac. Created from scratch by inventor and engineer Hamish Kennedy, the business is harvesting global opportunities as the world leader in complete sorting and packing solutions for the fresh produce industry.

Targeting pack houses, Compac delivers end-to-end solutions that improve performance, streamline operations, ensure quality and consistency of produce and reduce labour requirements.

A Masters Degree-qualified electrical engineer, it helped that Hamish grew up on a kiwifruit orchard. He identified that the industry lacked a fruit sorting machine that combined mechanical, electrical and optical technologies. He also perceived there would be benefits in creating something that would also be faster, and more accurate, than conventional fruit grading machines available at the time.

So he decided to build one in the basement of his student flat. Little did he know that a university hobby would evolve into a global business that would revolutionise accurate, high speed sorting machines for the fresh produce market.

Their technologically savvy solutions sort fruit and vegetables according to size, shape, colour and surface defects. Infrared use then further sorts produce based on internal quality and taste. Every well thought out plan or innovation is about ensuring customers get the best possible produce on the shelf, at the best possible price.

Compac is number one in technology worldwide and currently number two in revenues. Headquartered in Auckland and active in over 30 countries, Compac employs over 500 staff and operates from five global hubs, in the USA, China, Spain, Uruguay, and New Zealand.

Since its first exports, Hamish has guided the company to become more focused on offshore markets as vehicles for growth. Depending on the yearly project mix around 90% of Compac’s revenue comes from offshore. This has allowed the company to develop scale, increase R&D capacity, invest in more sales channels and introduce global sourcing and manufacturing to lower costs and improve margins.

Hamish realised early on that diversification into other commodities would be the key to growing his young business. The kiwifruit crisis of the late 1980’s hit hard, but provided the perfect catalyst for the move into apples. Today Compac sort a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, but specialise in apples, citrus, and cherries. Their global market share is 12% and growing.

Chris Heaslip and Eliot Crowther found business success at the intersection between generosity and innovation.

Rather than pursuing the stability of a traditional corporate job, young entrepreneurs look to create something outside of the norm. While the idea of business ownership may not be especially unique to this generation, what seems to be especially prevalent is a drive for social impact, not just business success and profit.

For Chris Heaslip and Eliot Crowther, the co-founders of cloud-based, mobile payments company Pushpay, their passion lies at the intersection between generosity and innovation. The idea for their company came from a thought - what if we made the process of giving money as fast and simple as possible? Why can’t giving be as easy as downloading a song from iTunes?

The answer to that question has turned into a Software as a Service (SaaS) company which now facilitates digital contributions for over 1,400 organizations and recently migrated to the NZX Main Board. To date, they’ve raised close to NZ$30m in investment to make this possible.

Chris is no stranger to successful entrepreneurial ventures. At the age of 21 he started a music record venture with a friend, selling the business a few years later. Eliot took a different path to Pushpay. A New Zealand cycling representative, he became a top salesman for HRV, before eventually coming up with the idea for Pushpay in 2011, after seeing how payment complexity had a negative impact on consumer transactions.

Recent reports show Pushpay close to joining the club of SaaS companies that grew from $1m to $10m ACMR in less than five quarters, something defined by industry experts as ‘hyper-growth’. This kind of growth would not have been possible without Chris and Eliot’s purposeful decision to move the majority of the company’s marketing and sales efforts to the US faith-based market. With roughly 150 million people attending church, and over 314,000 churches in need of digital giving solutions, the opportunity to have both social impact and business success is apparent.

Chris and Eliot currently live in the Seattle area with their families and oversee Pushpay’s US growth strategy.

Wayne Wright’s life of (ad)ventures has culminated in a plan to help Kiwi kids.

What do a kiwifruit orchard development business, a US-based retaining wall operation employing 1,000 and a VOIP telecommunications venture going up against ICT ‘heavyweight’ Bell South have in common?

They’re all ventures that Christchurch-born Wayne Wright has had the major hand in building.

Wayne had always had a suspicion of authority and what he calls the ‘whims’ of incompetent people. This attitude, and what he would later discover as an entrepreneurial spirit of perseverance, made the idea of working for someone else untenable.

Becoming a Queen’s Scout where he learned the concepts of collaboration, taking risks and assuming responsibilities, also shaped his approach to life and enterprise. He believes that anything is possible to a brave heart.

All of these attitudes have gone into Wayne’s dream of creating a ‘home away from home’ early childhood education (ECE) experience for New Zealand children. BestStart (formerly Kidicorp) has become the leader in its field.

After their time in the United States, Wayne and wife Chloe returned to New Zealand. A friend asked him to mentor his wife and sister-in-law who were having financial difficulties with their Centre and it was during that experience the vision of sector consolidation developed. Wayne and Chloe both had financial and experiential ‘wealth’ but no childhood education track record. Being a man in a predominantly female world also raised challenges. In the end it took what Wayne says was 15 years of consistent application to convince people the ‘driver’ behind the enterprise was making a difference to children’s lives rather than financial reward.

The business has flourished mainly because BestStart had the vision of taking the ECE sector from a cottage pursuit to a structured and professional industry. Through well managed growth and strategic acquisition the business today operates out of 256 centres, is licensed for 15,720 children and employs over 4,370 staff.

Along the way, Wayne had the largesse to share his vision of excellence, and sector consolidation, with ‘like-minded’ people. He managed a reverse takeover of a publicly-listed ‘shell’ and brought in other shareholders. When share growth and dividends became to the focal point for these new investors Wayne re-privatized the operation to continue with his vision.

A major growth spurt came when, after industry giant ABC failed in Australia, he bought their New Zealand centres which doubled the business size overnight.