The products might be named after an extinct bird, but the eco-friendly, Whangarei based Dodo Puzzles will be around for a while - in fact the winners of the Innovate Northland awards are already expanding.
Kamo creative company Greatures Worldwide Co Ltd scooped the New to Market category and was the overall winner of the 'Innovate Northland - Celebrating The Great Idea Awards', run by Northland Chamber of Commerce, Northland Inc and NorthTec.
The awards night was held at NorthTec's Raumanga campus on Friday. Greatures founder Hoon Kim, who works from his converted garage where he operates a massive, computerised laser cutter, said the business is expanding.
Mr Kim was a 3D effects computer graphics specialist in South Korea until 1996. He is also a travel writer.
During his travels, he saw how plastics destroyed the environment and decided to make a toy harmless to nature.
The cardboard kitsets - featuring cows, kiwis, whales and dinosaurs - range in price from $20 to $80 and are supplied to retailers at the Te Papa Museum, Auckland Zoo and Auckland Museum. Greatures produce 100 puzzles on a busy day.
Dodo Puzzles have entered the toy market, museums, art galleries, gift stores and book stores, and they are a puzzle, toy and piece of art all in one.
The puzzles are made by first creating designs and dimensions with 3D software. The screens are then hand printed by Live For Print in Whangarei and the screens are cut by Mr Kim's Kamo laser cutter. Part of the enjoyment for customers is in putting the puzzles together.
They are made of New Zealand food-grade, recyclable cardboard, recycled paper, painted with environmentally friendly rice ink and put together with PVA glue which contains no harmful ingredients.
"I certainly didn't want to make them out of plastic.
Plastic is to the earth as cholesterol is to our bodies. We really don't want it there."
He said the cardboard was a humble material and the products reflected the old traditional toys that often outlast modern toys and games.
Taiwan based Evergreen International Corp is now in talks with the Kamo company to manufacture Dodo Puzzles, providing royalties to the Northland contingent.
The puzzles would be made from medium-density fibreboard (MDF) and while not of cardboard, Mr Kim said MDF was still eco-friendly.
"That environmental aspect is the most important part of any contract I will make with companies."
The sun shines into Mr Kim's garage and as a tui sings from a nearby cherry tree, he explains why he chose Northland for his business.
"It's peaceful and the pace of life is slower."
He said being from Seoul, "a city with a population of 15 million crammed into a city the size of Lake Taupo", his dream was to live somewhere peaceful.
Moving to New Zealand, specifically Northland, was a no brainer for him and his family.
Mr Kim was introduced to toy production while working as a 3D graphic designer for a Korean toy company, which was based on Dyer St in Whangarei for a time. After that company folded, he came up with his own idea for an eco-friendly toy.
"I did some brainstorming with some friends and we came up with Dodo Puzzles three years ago."
Han Park, a graphic designer brought his design expertise to the table, along with designer Rim Kim. Bok Kim, a former aircraft engineer cast a technical eye over the product, while George Platt worked on marketing the product.
The prototypes were made of cardboard from the local recycling centre.
"It was an obvious choice of material. It was easy to get, durable and eco-friendly."
Greatures was now seeking investors so the company could respond to a global demand for Dodo Puzzles.
"We don't have the capacity here. We need investors - there is massive potential and lots of interest, especially after we attended the World Toy Fair at Nuremberg in Germany earlier this year.
"There are companies all over the world wanting to import Dodo Puzzles," he said.
On winning the awards, Mr Kim said "It encourages us and gives us confidence that others feel about the product as we feel about it. We have been recognised for eco-friendly products which have potential to grow to overseas markets."
Long term, Mr Kim said he hopes that profits from Dodo Puzzles can be used to improve the environment.
"At the moment, there is no profit until we grow. But when there is, profits should be returned to nature."
For more on the products, check out www.dodopuzzle.co.nz.
? Greatures has given the Northern Advocate a Dodo Puzzle to giveaway to a lucky reader. To be in with a chance of winning, email your answer to the following question, with the word PUZZLE in the subject line to email@example.com.
What city is Dodo Puzzles founder Hoon Kim originally from?
Entries close on Tuesday, August 12 at 8am.