University of Auckland Business School dean Greg Whittred is getting ready to take a few more risks.

As one of the driving forces behind the Business School's Entrepreneurs' Challenge, he has whittled this year's entries down to 26 companies in with a chance to win up to $1 million in growth finance.

His instructions to take a punt on companies at the beginning of the growth phase came from Entrepreneurs' Challenge benefactor Charles Bidwill, the expatriate businessman who established the competition with $3 million of funding.

"The first year clearly we wanted to make sure we had companies that were going to go the distance and help carry the brand of the challenge and the school, so it was important to be cautious and optimistic about the candidates.

"This year I think we're equally optimistic but I think we're prepared to be riskier because after discussions with Charles he indicated that he was prepared to be take on a little more risk than we might have done in the first year," said Whittred.

As a result the shortlist is 70 per cent longer than last year. Whittred said of those shortlisted 20 would be classified as established whereas last year's qualifiers all fell into that category.

"But six this year are probably closer to that start-up stage. It's a slightly riskier pool this year in that respect. We've been prepared to expand our risk profile this year relative to last year."

He said the high standard of entrants this year created challenges in selecting the qualifiers. Not only were they assessing the quality of the ideas and the potential of the products, the selection panel were gauging the calibre of the people behind the companies.

"A number of companies get excluded, not because they are not potentially supportable, but because you've got to chose those ideas that have more promise than others."

Over the next couple of weeks the shortlisted companies will be submitting a full business plan including several years of annual reports and forecasts for the next two years. Finalists will be notified mid-September with the eventual winner or winners announced in November.

THE SHORTLIST

* 2Touch Technologies: Interactive surface technology, including touch-screen whiteboards.

* 3i Innovation: On-road lighting using LED technology.

* AWT New Zealand: Water management consultancy.

* Biomatters: Biological research software.

* Coastline Markers: Road line marking.

* eBus: Technology for the electronic delivery of video content.

* Fresha Export: Exporter of New Zealand food products to Australia, Asia and South America.

* Greentide: Bioagritech company manufacturing biological-based pesticides.

* Huffer Direct: Fashion label focused on the skate and snowboard market.

* Mesynthes: Regenerative tissues substitutes for reconstructive plastic surgery.

* MiniMonos: Online virtual world for kids, focused on sustainability.

* Nakedbus: Low-cost inter-city bus network.

* Optima Corporation: Optimisation and simulation software for the emergency services, airlines and health industries.

* Outsmart 2005: Developers of free-to-play virtual world, SmallWorlds.

* Piako Gourmet Yoghurt: Gourmet yoghurt producers.

* Podscape: Creator of BigLittleBang website for children to create.

* Powershield: Battery monitoring systems for back-up battery power.

* SIMTICS: Web-based medical training.

* Spider Tracks: Crash-proof aircraft location technology.

* Symansis: High-quality reagents used by cell biology researchers.

* Teknatool International: Motor technology for the woodworking industry.

* TicketDirect: Web-based event ticketing.

* Tomizone: Wi-fi hotspot provider.

* TracMap: Agricultural GPS for tasks such as fertiliser spreading.

* Unimarket: Customisable, online one-stop-shop for large, decentralised organisations buying products and services.

* Venerdi: Gluten-free baked products.