When London-based businessman Charles Bidwill has visitors in town, he sits them down for a coffee at the Shoreditch branch of New Zealand coffee roasters Allpress Espresso.

Bidwill takes a particular pride in having coffee and lunch at the Allpress Roastery Cafe - its existence is in part thanks to his $3 million funding of the University of Auckland Business School Entrepreneurs' Challenge.

The Entrepreneurs' Challenge aims to seek out and support small-to-medium sized New Zealand companies looking to grow their business, particularly into overseas markets.

Allpress was one of three companies to share $1 million in low-cost finance available annually through the business competition in its inaugural funding round in 2009.


Since then Allpress and fellow winners, smart water meter technology developers Outpost Central and hot water heating control technology company Senztek, have continued to grow in a difficult business environment, said Entrepreneurs' Challenge investment committee chairman Brian Hannan.

"It's really good to see three winners acting like winners," he said.

"They've had a tough time, they've all adapted in different ways in different markets and they're all coming out ahead."

The three companies are due to graduate from the programme, which gave them mentoring and support from the business school as well as low-interest finance, later this year.

Hannan said the vision Bidwill had was for the companies to expand overseas and at the same time give the business school an opportunity to interact with some real-world entrepreneurial business people.

"Charles is a very practical businessman and as much as anything he wanted the students to see the world outside the world of business theory."

The success of the Entrepreneurs' Challenge in what is a high-risk investment space prompted Bidwill to last year add another $1 million to the fund, matched by $1 million from an anonymous donor.

The Entrepreneurs' Challenge is now on the hunt again for New Zealand's next business success story, celebrating with a launch event at the University of Auckland Business School today.

Companies have until the end of the month to register interest in participating in the Entrepreneurs' Challenge.

"[Bidwill's] words to me were that he'd love us to find another Apple or something like that and he readily acknowledges that that's a very long shot, but again he's a real believer in not shrinking from the task and having a go," Hannan said.

"That's the culture that these successful entrepreneurs have."