What the three winners of Auckland University's inaugural Entrepreneurs' Challenge have in common is clarity of purpose, says the head of the awards committee.

Coffee roaster Allpress Espresso, smart water meter developer Outpost Central and hot water heating control company Senztek have been chosen to share $1 million in funding.

This will come in the form of loans on favourable terms to help the companies move through critical stages of their growth, with the aim of becoming international enterprises.

They will also receive mentoring from business professionals and increased profile.

The award is part of a $3 million gift to the University of Auckland Business School by expatriate New Zealander and international financier Charles Bidwill.

Challenge investment committee chairman Brian Hannan said a strong sense of where they were going characterised all five of the finalists.

"If they have a very clear idea of where they want to take the company and they have done the work to build an understanding of that vision with all of the staff, then you develop a cultural commitment to that vision.

"That is a hugely empowering factor in successful companies."

To make a meaningful contribution to the businesses, the Challenge was able to assist only three out of the five, but it was hoped that as the competition became better established more funds would be available, Hannan said.

After 22 years and now supplying 500 hospitality outlets across Australasia, Allpress Espresso is not a new company. But "in terms of what it's capable of becoming it's still quite young", Hannan said.

Founder Michael Allpress said the funds would go towards the company's plans to expand to the British market, a nation he said was full of tea and bad-coffee drinkers.

"There is a huge hole in the market. I don't think it is a secret that opportunity exists within the UK market."

He and business partner Tony Papas would spend between $800,000 and $1 million bankrolling a new flagship roastery and espresso bar in London.

Sales of Auckland firm Outpost Central's smart water meter technology have been boosted by demand from water-deficient Australia.

The company plans to grow into a $100 million business, and co-founder Jedd Forbes says the Challenge funding will help by allowing the business to hire a chief operating officer.

"Somebody who can really take over the day-to-day running of the business and do those sorts of things that James [Riddell, co-founder] and I aren't very good at."

This would allow him and Riddell to focus on travelling and selling the product, Forbes said.

Sales of Senztek's Ecostat and Solastat hot water heating control devices are booming, and the company is developing more product lines to take to Europe.

European homes are often heated with hot water-based systems using a more complex array of technologies. Britain in particular was an opportunity because Senztek's European competitors did not see it as a viable market, chief executive Brian Knolles said.

The Challenge funding would be channelled into R&D and marketing the new products for the European market, including Knolles' moving to Europe to establish an office.