A cash-free existence is the ultimate target for New Zealand company Monitor Business Machines. The transaction management specialist develops software and hardware payment solutions used with photocopiers, printers, vending machines, laundry machines and at point-of-sale.

They began exporting to Australia in 1992, have been doing business in the United States for about five years, and in the UK for seven.

Their systems reduce cash collection and security costs, paper and ink wastage by around 20-30 per cent, and increase customer convenience.

Chief executive John Burns said a Monitor Business Machines system was installed at Hollywood hospital Cedars-Sinai, where management wanted to control the spend of doctors at the cafeteria.

"What they found was that the doctors were getting the food for free so they would just go nuts and take everything back to their ward.

"So they put in a process where they all have to use their ID cards to swipe at the terminal, it gives management control over who is taking what level of food through the cafeteria."

The success of the Cedars-Sinai system has been followed by the implementation of more.

"Our agent in LA has now sold it to four other hospitals in the LA region," Burns said.

Another Monitor Business Machines system gaining traction overseas, the campus card, allows students to have one universal swipe or proximity card to pay for everything from printing and photocopying, through to paying for their lunch and doing their laundry.

"There have been many studies that have shown if there is a student who has a card with money on it, they are more likely to use the vending machine ... rather than cash which they might not have," chief technical officer Mike Ogram said.

And luckily for the students' parents, the system allows them to check their kids' transaction history and top up their accounts online.

This kind of universal system is currently used at institutions like the State University of New York, The University of Chicago, and the universities of New South Wales and Sydney.

Monitor Business Machines is also one of five finalist companies in the running for up to $1 million worth of funding in the University of Auckland Entrepreneurs' Challenge.

The Dragons' Den style competition was created with a $3 million donation by expat businessman Charles Bidwill.

If Monitor Business Machines was to win the large cheque, the company would invest the money in creating new additions to their product line.

The money would also allow them to do some marketing which, despite their success, the company has never used before.

Ogram said a new direction for their technology involved doing away with swipe cards altogether and using fingerprints or eye scans, which was particularly applicable for primary and high schools.

The company is working with Waitakere College, installing and upgrading the necessary systems to make them a cash-free school.

"Fingerprints are particularly relevant for the school market because kids lose cards but they don't lose their fingers very often," he said.

* The challenge

Run for the first time this year.

Offers one or more companies a share of $1 million in funding.

Money to be paid back in three years, creating an evergreen fund.

Established with $3 million donation from businessman Charles Bidwill.

The winner will be announced tomorrow night.

More information at www.entrepreneurschallenge.co.nz