Congratulations to the 2018 finalists
On Thursday 26 July, 22 of New Zealand’s most successful entrepreneurs were announced as finalists in this year’s Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards in front of an enthusiastic crowd of fellow entrepreneurs, business executives and entrepreneurial students from Manurewa High School and Young Enterprise Scheme.
EY Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards director Darren White describes the group is “wonderfully diverse” but says at the same time, there is something “distinctly New Zealand” about them.
“We continue to be in awe of these entrepreneurs from all corners of the country who have demonstrated enormous courage, determination and skill to establish and grow their businesses, we are delighted they have taken this opportunity to join us in celebrating Kiwi entrepreneurship. Each year it is an honour to acknowledge their achievements and recognise the dreamers that do.”
You can find out more about each of the finalists below.
- Read more about Chin Abeywickrama
Auckland entrepreneur Chin Abeywickrama quit what he describes as a comfortable job at Fonterra and sold his house to finance his new venture, Netlogix in 2012.
The business is a technology-based freight logistic company, servicing clients across Australia and New Zealand. His digital marketplace integrates more than 500 customer sites and 200 contracted carriers across the two countries.
His foundation customer was Carter Holt Harvey and current clients include Oji Fibre Solutions, Fletcher Building, and Steel & Tube.
The business shifts more than three million tonnes of freight a year through more than 300 corridors. It operates by collaborating with freight owners and carriers, targeting “inherent inefficiencies” in the freight-forwarding transport market.
In Chin’s words, Netlogix brings “sustainable freight efficiencies that owners and carriers cannot bring acting on their own”. Freight can be moved via rail, road or coastal shipping.
It also shifts significant numbers of trucks off the roads by “directionally and seasonally optimising the freight across New Zealand”. The system works for both large freight-forwarders and SMEs. The benefits are both economic and environmental.
For freight owners, Netlogix offers a centralised freight desk where they can access a network of carriers with a single point of contact.
For carriers, it offers a level playing field with access to Netlogix’s freight network, greater operational certainty and better use of assets and truck allocation.
The emphasis is on collaboration and partnership.
Chin says the business has seen significant growth in the past five years. In 2013, the business serviced 35 transport operators and just over 100 customer sites. Today, there are more than 500 customer sites and 200 carriers on its books.
- Read more about James Annabell
According to James Annabell, his company makes “the world’s purest and finest honey”, along with paleo-friendly superfoods and bee venom skincare products. Plenty of punters seem to agree. Co-founded with his father Toby in New Plymouth in 2015, Egmont Honey has experienced huge growth in the past three years. It began with 100 hives; there are now 4,000 and the business buys in 700 tonnes of honey a year.
Last year, to raise more capital and to ramp up its global aspirations, Egmont sold 51% of its shareholding to The Better Health Company, a New Zealand business majority owned by Singaporean hedge fund CDH Investments, with US$20 billion under management. Along with additional funding, the move has given Egmont access to the networks and companies CDH owns worldwide.
Today the business exports to 16 countries. Its customers include well-known wellness brands and large supermarket chains such as Woolworths Australia and two large Chinese supermarket chains with over 1000 stores between them.
Egmont Honey, says James, is integrated from the hive to the pot. He has been in the honey industry since 2009, when he was approached to work for Watson & Sons, New Zealand’s biggest manuka honey producer. James recognised that there was a great opportunity for him and his father Toby who has years of agricultural experience to go it alone and utilise their respective skills to form Egmont Honey.
Egmont Honey is undoubtedly the fastest growing honey company in NZ and it is not by mistake. A lot of time is spent on strategy and it is a customer centric company putting its customers number 1 which has worked very well to date.
- Read more about Elizabeth Barbalich
Dry skin, and her inability to find anything natural on the market to help, was behind Elizabeth Barbalich’s decision to start experimenting with making her own natural products in a bid to find a skin cream that worked for her.
Inspired, in part, by her husband’s interest in natural health, Elizabeth says she saw a niche in the market for “a cool, avant-garde brand that elevated skincare to the next level”.
In the lead up to the launch of her business, Antipodes New Zealand, in 2006 she mixed dozens of trial formulas at home and experimented on her own dry and sensitive skin. The result was a unique range of certified organic and vegan skincare and makeup products.
All are made from premium ingredients from nature and Elizabeth, who has a background in science, has had her product claims validated by independent scientific testing. And, recognising the importance of innovation, she is constantly tweaking her range.
“Our best anti-ageing natural skincare features new scientific discoveries like revolutionary Vinanza® antioxidant extracts. These super-charge our anti-ageing face creams and ultra care serums,” she says.
Her vision, she says, was to supply a premium natural skincare range to the global market, offering a high-performing alternative to synthetic brands.
At the beginning, she sold the products herself, travelling up and down the country selling direct to retailers. Kirkcaldie & Stains (now David Jones) in Wellington was her first retail customer.
Since then, the company has experienced growth and now sells in nearly 20 countries. Key markets include Australia, the UK, China (via e-commerce platforms such as Tmall Global), Hong Kong and France. Australia and the UK are two regions that the company is currently pouring investment into to affect a step change.
It was recently named the ASB Wellington Exporter of the Year at the Wellington Export Awards and is a finalist in New Zealand Trade and Enterprise’s International Business Awards. These will take place on November 8 at SkyCity Convention Centre in Auckland.
“The key to brand success is our devotees around the world,” Elizabeth says. “You will buy a brand again and stay loyal to it only if you find it’s skincare that performs for you.”
Jamie Beaton & Sharndre Koshur
- Read more about Jamie Beaton & Sharndre Koshur
Jamie Beaton, 23 and Sharndre Koshur, 23 started Crimson Education five years ago with $40 and a Facebook account.
In his graduating year at high school, Jamie received offers to 25 of the world’s top-ranked universities and Sharndre entered into studies at the University of Auckland. Both agreed that there was a gap of information for their peers in how to discover best-fit universities abroad and how to get accepted. They found themselves regularly advising fellow students on how to increase their chances for admission to top universities, from Economics at Harvard in the US to Med School in Australia and New Zealand. It became clear that there was an appetite for more information and a need to demystify the university admissions pathways.
So, in 2013, while Jamie was completing an accelerated degree at Harvard and Sharndre was studying a Bachelor of Health Sciences, Population Health at UOA, Crimson Education was established. The company’s mission was to provide transformative education to allow students to unlock their greatest potential. The model created was focused on providing a personalised approach, challenging the traditional one-size-fits-all approach to education.
Its aim is to break down the information and geographic barriers to admission to the world’s top universities. Crimson does this by offering mentoring, tutoring and “first-class strategy” beyond what other educators are providing.
Initially, Jamie and Sharndre promoted the business by hosting local seminars and also talks within schools delivered by recently-admitted students to share their expertise on how to stand out as top college candidates.
As the company scaled, so did the tech team and the Crimson App was launched to scale service delivery and manage quality of tutoring and mentoring, globally. Through the app, each student has a team of mentors and tutors assigned to guide him/her so they can choose the university with the best fit for them, “and confidently apply, with great results”.
Jamie and Sharndre point out that hundreds of thousands of students worldwide apply for places in the top universities but competition is fierce and only a fraction succeeds. “Crimson’s personalised education and mentoring program gives a clear, strategic roadmap for students to reach their goals, with hands-on support at every step of the way,” they say.
The online model drives down costs and makes the business easily scalable.
All up, 2000 tutors are connected to the system which operates around the globe – with 24 offices established including in New Zealand, Australia, Britain, China, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Scotland, Brazil, Russia, South Africa, the US and more.
Crimson offers academic tutoring, standardised test preparation, leadership and extra-curricular advising and admissions consulting.
James Calver & Alex Magaraggia
- Read more about James Calver & Alex Magaraggia
Instead of accepting jobs in investment banking, law, or events when they graduated from university, entrepreneurs Alex Magaraggia and James Calver scraped together $10,000 each and started their own business.
After buying their first container-load of compostable packaging in 2011, it took them three years to break into the traditional and well-established packaging market – an industry based on classic (and cheap) oil-based plastic products – and to break down the resistance to their new way of packaging.
Their aim was to produce sustainable packaging for food and beverages, made from plants and designed to be compostable.
“We had no capital,” the pair say, “but the bank backed us and our story.”
Their company, Ecoware, has pioneered the compostable packaging industry in New Zealand. Using products that rapidly break down, such as corn starch, paper and bamboo fibre, Ecoware’s business model is based on what it calls a “circular economy”, where customers use the packaging, then compost it, helping with the growth of next-generation plants.
“We make zero-waste environments a reality,” the pair say.
Alex and James, who meet at primary school, say it wasn’t until they were at university that the penny dropped about plastic “and the fast-approaching environmental crisis we couldn’t ignore”.
Initially, they say, people didn’t believe it was possible to make packaging from plants. “We had to start with education which made for a prolonged and difficult sell.” They also needed a large dose of innovation to match the price and performance of traditional oil-based packaging.
Today, their customers are coffee roasters, councils, stadiums, cafes and large corporate organisations.
As part of Ecoware’s mission for a waste-free world, James and Alex offset all the business’s carbon emissions by investing in native forest restoration projects, and have been New Zealand’s only carboNZero certified packaging company for the last four years.
Spring Sheep Milk Co
- Read more about Scottie Chapman
Raised on a fifth-generation sheep and beef farm near Kurow, Scottie Chapman didn’t discover until three years ago that it was possible to milk sheep commercially.
At a speaking engagement he’d been approach by the CEO of Landcorp – government-owned, and New Zealand’s biggest farmer – who wanted to discuss ways of finding “higher value uses for sheep”.
Operating as a consultant through his marketing company, SCL Group, Chapman took up the challenge. Nothing was off the table: meat, wool, dairy, blood, pet food, nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals and genetics would be considered.
The conclusion: sheep milk represented an “exciting, untapped opportunity”, Chapman says. A joint venture was formed between SCL and Landcorp, start-up capital was arranged and the team got going.
This had never been done in New Zealand before. “It was a unique private-public partnership, combining Landcorp’s professional farming skills with the in-market expertise of SCL Group,” Chapman says.
The brief was to establish “proof of concept” for a commercial, NZ-owned and operated sheep dairy business and to create the world’s most valuable sheep milk brand. Testing is underway on farms near Taupo and AgResearch recently announced it was beginning clinical trials to test sheep milk for human consumption, working with Spring Sheep, the University of Auckland’s Liggins Institute and sheep milk producer Blue River Dairy.
Ultimately, the aim is to develop and support a sheep-milk industry in NZ. “For far too long, NZ Inc has failed to extract maximum value from its primary industry,” Chapman says. “New Zealand sheep milk is a supermilk we will take to the world.”
For him, it’s a no-brainer. “Taste the difference!” Sheep milk, he says, is easier to digest than cows’ or goats’ milk, has higher levels of key vitamins and minerals, is creamier in flavour, and less likely to cause allergies and intolerances.
- Read more about Daniel Fowlie
More than a third of all billboards in the USA today are managed with software designed in Christchurch by Trineo, a business that Dan Fowlie co-founded in 2007. Thousands of skiers rely on Trineo’s software to purchase and manage their access to 26 resorts across North America. And at Fonterra, 22,000 global team members use a Trineo-built social intranet for two-way engagement between management and staff.
Fowlie started Trineo in what he describes as “a broom cupboard” in 2007. He had returned to New Zealand “with nothing to lose” after a stint in Kuwait, working close to the war zone in Iraq. With a background in operations management, analysis and development, Dan was living on the cheap and taking contract work to fund his idea of building a cloud services company, focused on serving this uncertain, emerging market.
At the time, nobody knew how cloud services would stack up against traditional, on-premises platforms, or on which cloud platform Trineo should stake its claim as an expert. After the company’s first iteration, which involved setting up Google apps for half a dozen customers, Dan bet on Salesforce, and later, Heroku – and these bets paid off. Salesforce is currently the top customer relationship management (CRM) platform while Heroku (owned by Salesforce) enables companies to develop software rather than worrying about the underlying hardware and services.
Though growing slowly and deliberately, Trineo’s progression wasn’t without obstacles. For example, the Christchurch earthquake destroyed Trineo’s offices and the company was forced to relocate temporarily to Dan’s home. Co-founder Abhinav Keswani, whose home was unliveable, moved back to his hometown of Sydney and made the most of a stressful time by expanding Trineo’s work to Australia.
Today, Trineo operates from New Zealand, Australia, the US, and Europe. Staff numbers are around 65, representing 10 different nationalities. The company has grown organically, funding itself via client work, and taking on no debt.
Put simply, Trineo uses cloud technology to moderise and transform business systems, enabling clients to evolve, innovate and remain competitive.
Maree Glading & Jessie Stanley
I love Ltd
- Read more about Maree Glading & Jessie Stanley
Selling handmade pies at the Clevedon Farmers’ Market was how good friends Maree Glading and Jessie Stanley first got the idea that a business opportunity was sitting right under their noses.
It was 2008 and the Global Financial Crisis was in full swing – not exactly the most auspicious time to be launching a premium product. And the pair, who had met years earlier in London, had established corporate careers.
But they decided to give it a go. After they scratched together a mere $3000 in start-up capital, I LOVE PIES was launched with the idea of making “real” food they would be proud to serve their own families. There were no preservatives; no arificial ingredients. The meat and eggs were free range, and back in those early days they made the pies themselves and door-knocked to get them into stores.
The aim was to shake up – and disrupt, though the word was rarely used back then – what they describe as a Kiwi baking industry which lacked true innovation.
Fast-forward 10 years and the ingredients are still wholesome. But Maree and Jessie’s range of pies, with their signature sour cream pastry, is now sold in supermarkets and gourmet food stores nationwide. They’re served on Air New Zealand’s trans-Tasman and Pacific flights and are the official pies sold at Eden Park and at Auckland Zoo. Last year they launched I LOVE BAKING – a range of cookies sold in supermarkets and innovatively sweetened with date puree.
The pair have tapped the export market, selling to Australian and Asian customers, and annual revenue is several million dollars a year. They’ve been profitable since their first year.
Setting up an innovative outsource structure has meant the company can quickly grow and meet customer needs. The duo can also focus on what they do best; product innovation, branding, consumer communications and insights.
Because they’re a small team, decision-making is fast and new products can get to market in three to six months, compared with 12-18 months for their competitors. As they put it, they can turn their mind to any food category that is ripe for innovation and “premiumisation”.
Anne Fulton & Jo Mills
- Read more about Anne Fulton & Jo Mills
“Everyone deserves to love their job and bring their best self to work,” say Anne Fulton and Jo Mills, of Fuel50. Co-founders, the pair design and develop cloud-based career path software and services. The aim, they say, is to enable leaders to engage and motivate their teams and “empower employees to map an inspirational career journey, leveraging critical talents and positioning themselves and their organizations for the future world of work”. This approach builds agile workplaces and people, sharply increasing the retention of employees and building a talent bench strength to meet business challenges.
The pair had been doing one-to-one career coaching before developing their signature Fuel50 software which has been translated into 28 languages and used in more than 35 countries. It delivers a career path for employees and engagement at work. Largely due to automation, the future of work is uncertain and traditional HR practices are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Fuel50 can help leaders cross this “talent chasm” and enable their employees to drive their own careers and businesses to future proof their workforce.
Their big break came after securing key US flagship customers after jointly raising $1 million in angel investment funding led by IceAngels and NZVIF in Auckland. In the US, they have built up a sales team of more than 12 people who produce 90% of the business’s revenue from global operations. Fuel50 has now added some of the world’s biggest brands, like Walmart, PepsiCo, eBay and Mastercard to its client base. Fuel50’s next market is Europe, where there is high demand from companies such as Expedia, Virgin Media, Virgin Atlantic, BMW and Bosch.
Eat My Lunch
- Read more about Lisa King
Like most fledgling entrepreneurs, Lisa King found getting her business off the ground was tough going.
Probably the lowest point was when a bank manager said her idea was “stupid” and “would never make money”. Undeterred, Lisa quit the corporate world, where she’d spent the previous 15 years, and launched Eat My Lunch from her kitchen table with only $50,000. Within three months, Lisa says she’d reached her three-year targets.
Her business works on a “Buy one, Give One” basis. It’s an online fresh food delivery service, aimed at helping feed the 25,000 children in Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington who go to school each day without lunch.
For every meal bought through her company, she gives a lunch to a kid in need. To date, Eat My Lunch has supplied 869,649 lunches to children in 78 low-decile schools. King estimates the business meets about 23% of the need in Auckland.
The goal, she says, is “to ensure no child at school goes hungry, starting with kids right here in our own backyard”. She believes her business has made a difference to their learning and behaviour, and their “feeling of being the same as other children”.
It’s not a charity, though Eat My Lunch has 12,000 volunteers supporting its 42 staff. “Everything we do must make commercial sense and deliver on our social purpose,” King says.
The business has grown rapidly through canny social media marketing and word of mouth. If you want to volunteer, there’s a wait-list of two or three months. And it’s scalable, King says. “The model can be replicated anywhere in the world.”
Supermarket giant Foodstuffs North Island has taken a 26% stake and King has forged corporate partnerships with Air New Zealand, Spark, CCA, and Z Energy, and with social entrepreneur Sir Ray Avery.
- Read more about Aaron McDonald
Formed two years ago, Aaron McDonald’s technology business, Centrality is now one of the world’s leading blockchain venture studios. Centrality has a clear mission to enable a better way of doing business in a world dominated by a few tech giants. It is doing that by supporting the development of a marketplace which allow developers to build and scale decentralized applications using cutting-edge blockchain technology. Based in Auckland, Centrality currently employs over 100 people in Auckland, London, Melbourne, Tokyo, Germany and Singapore.
Future growth has been crowdfunded using digital token which goes hand-in-hand with the technology driving Centrality: blockchain. Despite the newness of this funding model, Centrality enjoyed unprecedented success in January 2018 with its US$80m initial coin offer (ICO) selling out in just six minutes.
Centrality is “giving value to those who create value, cutting waste and reducing barriers to entry for businesses of all sizes”, Aaron says. The vast majority of startups fail, with the odds of success being infinitely small even if a company executed well. Centrality is working to enable smaller companies to work with each other to achieve scale and attain users together.
With data emerging as the most valuable resource, a huge imbalance in power exists amongst large tech companies whose data monopoly is a mountain few will be successful in overcoming. Centrality plans to nurture a peer-to-peer marketplace so that instead of tech behemoths like Amazon and Facebook reaping all the rewards, more businesses and consumers can share in the value which is created.
The highly complex transactions are made possible because of blockchain – the coding of trust into technology through a distributed database. Blockchain can be used to record and share any digital data and is a more secure way of exchanging information.
Centrality is leveraging blockchain to introduce a concept called decentralisation, which helps companies with no prior relationship to work effortlessly together and integrate their applications. The experience of decentralized applications has similarities to China’s WeChat – an “app of apps” platform where many diverse functions, and customer experiences, are rolled into a single application.
When describing Centrality’s evolution, Aaron is effectively building a business and developing a new industry at the same time.
In addition to its ICO funding, Centrality has more than 20 “venture investments” in its portfolio which, Aaron says, have raised an additional US$100m and employ a further 150 people.
Aaron says, “Centrality’s culture is about people who believe in our vision, are excited about making a difference, are challenged in their work and who own a stake in the value they create.”
That culture attracts motivated and diverse employees, business partners and investors. Employee turnover is less than 2% in an industry where talent is in high demand.
Aaron’s unwavering vision to build a better way of doing business now sees Centrality operating at the leading-edge of global technology, economic and regulatory innovation. And with some large developments expected and product releases with global brands later in 2018 Aaron is just getting started.
- Read more about Breccan McLeod-Lundy
Breccan McLeod-Lundy, the 29-year-old CEO of Rabid Technologies, knew from an early age he wanted to start a business, with the proviso that it somehow had to make the world a better place.
His first attempt, at the age of 18, collapsed within a year. But Breccan says this taught him a lot about the skills he needed to succeed the next time. After dusting himself off and working at a “real job” for a couple of years to build up cash reserves, he was ready to try again.
The result was Rabid Technologies that, Breccan says, “builds technology that is good for the world”. This can mean creating web, iOS or Android applications for clients such as NZ Post, NZX, Worksafe, Oranga Tamariki, Voyce, Slylight Trust and PledgeMe. “We contribute to open source communities and favour projects that do good,” Breccan says on his website. “Our culture encourages curiosity, innovation and community contribution.”
On the face of it, Rabid might look like several other Wellington development shops, taking on client projects and delivering technical solutions.
“What sets Rabid apart is our purpose and our values,” Breccan says. “We think carefully about the type of work we want to do and where we can make a positive impact. This manifests itself in us chasing particular clients – for example, government departments with projects that can impact on millions of people or community organisations like Skylight Trust, which helps young people through grief, loss and trauma, and needed a technical partner who could deal with sensitive content in a responsible way.”
Other clients and projects include PledgeMe – NZ’s crowdfunding platform – where Rabid is also a shareholder, NZ Navigator (an online self-assessment tool for non-profit organisations) and The Pack, a cross-platform app for student safety that became the centrepiece of Wellington City Council’s Stick With The Pack campaign.
In classic start-up style, the Mowbrays – brothers Nick and Mat, and sister Anna – founded what is now one of the world’s top 10 toy companies in a shed on their parents’ farm near Cambridge, in the Waikato.
The year was 2004 though their entrepreneurial story had begun nine years earlier when Mat Mowbray, at the age of 12, had won top prize at the NZ Science Fair with a prototype of what was to become their first product, a mini hot-air balloon kit.
After early steps to commercialise the products in the family’s shed, and attempts by younger brother Nick to flog it door-to-door around NZ, the pair decided, almost on a whim, to pack up and head for China.
Nick was 18 and had one year of university under his belt; his brother, who’d begun a university engineering course, decided to throw in his studies and go for broke.
Fourteen years later, the gamble has paid off – in spades. Their company, Zuru, is a top global toy designer, developer, maker and marketer, producing more than 400,000 toys a day. It has more than 5000 staff working in 17 offices/ 4 company owned factories, and supplies products to most major retailers in more than 120 countries.
Most recently, it has expanded into the fast-moving consumer goods market, developing, distributing and marketing digitally and socially driven brands in the nappy, pet food, vitamin and razor markets.
Unlike many fledgling businesses, Zuru has grown organically; it has never taken on debt or outside investors. But it was hard going, at first. Nick recalls the two brothers arriving in China with little money, few contacts and nowhere to live. Their first two nights were spent sleeping in bushes outside a Chinese airport and while they eventually found a shoebox-size apartment, for the first two years they lived on a few dollars a day for food.
But they were persistent and hungry for success and, after some early failures, got their first big break, with a deal to manufacture and supply a David Beckham soccer academy branded toy line to Walmart generating their first multi-million dollar contract. Their most popular brands, like Bunch O Balloons, Robofish, X-shot and Fidget Cube have become household names.
Head office is still in China but the siblings retain close links with New Zealand, with offices in Albany. And two years ago they made headlines by paying $32.5 million for the Coatesville mansion, just north of Auckland, previously rented by beleaguered internet mogul Kim Dotcom.
- Read more about Craig Piggott
Agritech entrepreneur Craig Piggott’s “aha”” moment came while he was working at Rocket Lab – Peter Beck’s satellite launch company.
Wondering why we could launch rockets into space when farmers were still walking behind their cows, he realised the dairy industry had changed little since the advent of the milking machine.
He’d come up with an idea while studying for an engineering degree but says the pieces didn’t come together until he was working at Rocket Lab.
His company, Halter, was founded in 2016.
Craig, now 24, has developed a GPS-enabled cow collar – a solar-powered tracking device which allows farmers to shift and monitor their herds remotely. It will self-herd cows and send data about their behaviour, emotions and health to farmers by phone, Craig says, giving farmers “unprecedented control over cow movements”.
The device works through a combination of sound and vibration to create a virtual boundary to keep cows in a particular place or to herd them to another.
The collar makes warning sounds when the cow approaches a boundary and conditions them to respond, meaning there is no need for fences or gates.
Testing is being done in a development farm in the Waikato and Halter is working towards having its first paying farms by the end of this year.
The device will cut labour requirements on farms, help to increase milk production, enhance animal welfare, and help farms run more productively and sustainably, Craig says.
Craig had to top up his student loan to buy the parts for his prototype and used his own belt to attach the device to the cow.
But Halter has now raised US$8 million from Silicon Valley investors, including Data Collective, Ubiquity Ventures, Promus Ventures, Tuhua Ventures and Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund.
- Read more about Craig Smith
At the age of 18, entrepreneur Craig Smith vowed to be financially independent by the time he was 30. Just months short of his 30th birthday, the co-founder of Education Perfect, has largely succeeded.
At high school, Craig had created a digital vocabulary revision tool to help himself learn French and Japanese. This morphed into a full online platform, with software developed by his brother and co-founder, Shane. Craig could see that technology was changing the way students learned and, by using analytics, figured he could offer personalised online learning in a classroom environment. That was his “foundation idea” Education Perfect is designed to complement traditional classroom teaching. More languages have since been added, along with Maths, Science, English and the humanities. It was the expansion into new subject areas that cranked the business up a notch.
Craig did not find things easy at the start. He quit university to focus on his business and, with no commercial experience, learned the hard way - by asking questions, challenging traditional ways of doing things and making mistakes. He came to understand the importance of listening to the market and the need for constant innovation. Like many entrepreneurs, Craig has his quirks. In his case “disciplined habits”, such as being in bed by 8pm every night for four years (including New Year’s Eve) and having a daily dip in the freezing ocean around Dunedin, even when it was snowing. This enabled him to “confront discomfort” and gave him the confidence to take on the challenges of a start-up.
Craig was keen to create a sustainable business that had a positive, meaningful impact on the world. He was keen to “go it on his own” and the company was initially funded in 2007 with $20,000 he won in a university business competition. The company has grown rapidly with staff numbers increasing to 125. Nowadays 80% of revenue comes from offshore, and over 550,000 students from 1,200 schools around the world are using the platform.
In December last year, Five V Capital and Mulpha International took substantial stakes in Education Perfect, thus enabling Craig to realise his dream of financial independence. He and his brother retain material shareholdings in the company and continue to guide the strategic direction of the business as Non-Executive Directors.
Grant Straker & Merryn Straker
- Read more about Grant Straker & Merryn Straker
Within a few months of meeting in 1999, Grant and Merryn Straker decided to quit their jobs and start a business in an industry where they had no prior experience. Initially, the business was a software development company; Grant had taught himself code after leaving the British army. He cashed in his army pension and Merryn tossed in her life savings.
After what they describe as a 10-year apprenticeship, the pair have developed a cloud-enabled, global translation service.
Key to their operation is a powerful, multi-lingual, web-based, content-management platform – an invention that enables human translators to deliver not only more quickly and more accurately but also more cheaply.
The platform manages its thousands of crowdsourced translators by using machine learning to best match translators with content. And it can process hundreds of file and content types in more than 120 languages, using advanced linguistic modelling tools. The company’s briefs range from complex multi-language global website localisations to one-off individual jobs.
Since 1999 the Strakers have served more than 50,000 customers. Of the world’s 27,000 vendors, they now rank in the top 100. They have sales offices in nine countries with production centres in Auckland and Barcelona. Their 120 staff speak more than 20 languages and they work with thousands of professional translators worldwide. Worldwide, the industry is worth an estimated NZ$60 billion.
Grant, of Ngati Raukawa iwi, is a strong advocate for Maori in technology. The company is working with the Gisborne Regional Council and mayor to set up a satellite office in the city. Grant and Merryn say it’s part of their belief that you can set up a successful tech company from New Zealand, and from its more remote regions.
- Read more about Danny Tomsett
Aucklander Danny Tomsett is a big believer in face-to-face communication – so much so that his company, FaceMe, has invested several million dollars into developing Digital Humans for its clients so digital conversations can become more “human”.
Earlier this month, FaceMe made global headlines by cloning Daniel Kalt, the regional chief economist and chief investment officer at Swiss-based UBS bank, and programming the avatar to answer client questions that the real Daniel Kalt had trained it to deliver.
It was one of the first times a digital human is helping client advisors deliver wealth management advice to customers via an avatar - a development which could see the more widespread delivery of financial (and other) advice by robot.
To Tomsett, it adds a “human touch” to digital conversations. These avatars (or digital humans) can see, hear and where appropriate remember customers, he says.
“Their ‘human’ sense enables them to listen and respond with empathy.” FaceMe was not always an AI (artificial intelligence) company. It was founded eight years ago to provide frictionless video conferencing between businesses and their customers.
But in 2016, Tomsett decided he wanted to take FaceMe in a radical new direction. The company would move away from its successful video conferencing business to create an artificial intelligence (AI) powered workforce platform.
FaceMe is one of the first companies in the world to successfully deliver this type of AI. Not only has it produced the first digital assistant in the Australasian banking sector but also the world’s first digital biosecurity officer at Auckland International Airport, who can answer simple questions.
FaceMe’s have several New Zealand clients some of which include ASB, BNZ and the Ministry of Primary Industries. Globally it works with IBM, UBS and is currently implementing a number of pilots with other large banks, telecommunications and technology companies.
Tomsett says that valuing people is at the core of what we are trying to achieve and is actively working with companies on empowering their staff with augmented Digital Human solutions as opposed to downsizing strategies. Emotional connection, he says is critical for building value with clients beyond just price and products. Digital must embody brand and create “feeling” experiences. Nothing is more effective than tone and body language.
Tomsett notes that global research and survey company, Gartner, predicts that by 2025, customers will manage 85% of their day to day service needs with business without interacting with a human being.
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