Tech innovation was a critical success factor at the Westpac Auckland Business Awards North, with finalists such as Flintfox International, iCOS LIVE, Unleashed Software and EasyForms bringing new, disruptive software innovations to market in areas including transport logistics and document and data services.

A low barrier to market entry in the online space means local businesses are seizing the opportunity to position themselves for global markets. Add Kiwi ingenuity and a commitment to providing service excellence and North Auckland businesses are succeeding beyond even their own expectations.

Contributing to the region's developing food and beverage sector, other entrants like Aquity are growing niche markets with added value products such as a dosing cap range, while WaterDrops is creating new sub-categories in the bottled water market. Succeeding in the local market, Picnic Box combines the best artisan products in eco-friendly packaging.

Dog day care operators DogHQ and Urban Dogs have extended service delivery from a standard pet boarding service to exercise, training, grooming, vet care and expert socialisation, creating a "one-stop shop" where traditionally services or offerings have been split -- and have therefore been more costly to customers.

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North businesses can access support services and platforms such as the Auckland Chamber of Commerce's partnership with Business Mentors New Zealand, and central government's Regional Business Partners Programme, delivered in Auckland by Auckland Tourism Events & Economic Development (Ateed).

In Takapuna, businesses are using the term "Techapuna", referring to a growing cluster of savvy, new, tech innovation companies including Awards participants Snapcomms and Unleashed Software, who meet regularly for support and to share ideas.

From under $100,000 turnover to multi-million dollar turnover, this year's North Awards contestants compete from different business models and vantage points, but all demonstrate leadership in best business practice. Many undertake applied research with experts in their industry, acquire industry recognised memberships and certifications and benchmark with top international players. They also constantly reevaluate their competitive position and execute to the highest standard.

Winner excellence in innovation
Sponsored by Massey University
Winner: Aquity

Aquity
Aquity

Aquity has a strong focus on adding value to the drinks industry, in particular the water category. Aquity has taken an everyday commodity to a different level, with products such as the VitalZing brand and added-value products such as a dosing cap range and WaterDrops, creating new sub-categories in the bottled water market.

"By taking risks and leading by example, we've created a company that hasn't followed the leaders," says Greg Skinner, General Manger and shareholder. "There is a lot of interest in our product in New Zealand and all over the world, with 80 per cent of supermarkets stocking four products within the last 18 months."

Excellence in marketing
Sponsored by P.M.T
Winner: Urban Dogs Limited

Urban Dogs Limited
Urban Dogs Limited

A dog daycare with a fun, safe environment for dogs to exercise, play and learn all-important socialisation skills and doggy manners from the rest of the canine pack and the human pack leaders.

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"Our aim is to constantly compare and measure. We try many ways and test what works by checking with our customers all the time," explains managing director Leanne Coste, who has established a specialty service, the RSA or Relaxing Seniors Area, for older dogs. "It's a very direct relationship with the owner and their dog," adds Coste. "We do everything to help owners feel good about leaving their pets for the day."

Best emerging business
Sponsored by Air New Zealand
Winner: Picnic Box Limited

Picnic Box Limited
Picnic Box Limited

Picnic Box uses the very best artisan food from around New Zealand and a lot of fresh thinking and packaging to create tasty picnic boxes for corporates, weddings or any other gathering.

"Starting out you really wonder: are you doing the right thing?" says founder Diane Stanbra. "This award is such validation. We know there is so much to finding the right people if your business is going to work, and this combination is working! Our team is super-committed and will be there any time to get the job done and get things delivered," she says.

Excellence in bustomer service delivery
Sponsored by Barfoot & Thompson
Winner: DogHQ

DogHQ
DogHQ

DogHQ is a dog daycare that solves customers' needs with extended care, half-day trials, grooming, access to veterinary expertise and more. It has recently introduced Tiny Town which provides a completely separate area for small puppies, timid dogs and physically delicate breeds.

"Customer feedback is everything. Every year we do a huge survey to check our products and services are meeting customer's needs. Our innovations come from their feedback and the most consistent comment from customers is 'we can't believe the difference this has made to our dog," says founder Louise O'Sullivan.

Excellence in strategy and planning
Sponsored by PwC
Winner: EasyForms Limited

EasyForms Limited
EasyForms Limited

Chief executive David Rouse says: "Entering the Awards means that we have challenged our current business plan and have learnt to turn that into a daily document -- to maintain focus and also to maintain agility. The feedback from the judges and the questions they asked were even more powerful than the application and really challenged us."

EsayForms is Auckland's leading customised paperless forms provider with the option for customers to complete their form anywhere from their mobile device, when they're on the go.

The judges said this business won the category because it has an excellent strategic plan and a team that is very innovative, who can adapt quickly.

Excellence in exporting
Sponsored by Ports of Auckland Limited
Winner: Flintfox International Limited

Flintfox International Limited
Flintfox International Limited

Flintfox has been developing software to better manage, analyse and optimise trade promotional activity for 28 years.

"The Exporting Award is great recognition of how difficult it is to be based in New Zealand but with 98 per cent of our customers worldwide. Our business is anywhere, anytime, and any device can access it -- so it's a global thing," says James Lett, Chief Technology Officer.

"Our X-factor is being Kiwi and with our Kiwi ingenuity we can solve problems for big companies faster. Kiwis often have a unique way of doing things, and, sometimes, better thinking."

Excellence in business leadership
Sponsored by Partners Life Limited
Winner: Mike Ridgway, Flintfox International Limited

Mike Ridgway has been involved in the IT and telecommunications industry for over 20 years and is known for his ability to identify winning opportunities and capitalise on them.

The judges said Mike leads from the front and is clearly able to sell a dream.

Peter Hay, Operations Director and COO, says Mike has charisma and likeability. "He's just driven. He looks for the opportunities that others wouldn't believe were there and has a knack of looking at things differently.

"Mike's experience in IT, his vision and his genuine leadership has helped the business grow."

Supreme Business Excellence
Sponsored by Westpac
Winner: Flintfox International Limited

Flintfox provides trade software as an integrated solution set available through a network of authorised partners around the world.

Operations Director and COO Peter Hay said this was a real team win. "We are about having a unified approach to the business, a team that loves to get up in the morning to come to work. We do good stuff every day and we forget to celebrate it. The awards are great to take stock, to stop and look at what we have done."

The judges said this business was incredibly well-managed, well led from the top, innovative, invested in new product, people and processes, resulting in strong, profitable growth.

Finalists
Excellence in Innovation sponsored by Massey University
Aquity
Durello Traditional Brazilian Foods Ltd
EasyForms Ltd
iCOS Live Ltd
Unleashed Software

Excellence in Marketing sponsored by P.M.T
4DogSake Ltd
Flintfox International Ltd
Urban Dogs Ltd

Best Emerging Business sponsored by Air New Zealand
Aquity
DogHQ
Eighty4 Recruitment Ltd
Fire & Light NZ Ltd
Picnic Box Ltd

Excellence in Customer Service Delivery sponsored by Barfoot & Thompson
Aluro HealthcareNZ Ltd
DogHQ
Hair Scene
Urban Dogs Ltd

Excellence in Strategy and Planning sponsored by PwC
Barker Business Brokerage
BRAVEday Ltd
CEDA Environmental Services
EasyForms Ltd
Turners Panelbeating 2004 Ltd

Excellence in Exporting sponsored by Ports of Auckland
Aquity
Flintfox International Ltd
Tomahawk Brand Management Ltd
Unleashed Software

Excellence in Business Leadership sponsored by Partners Life
Mark O'Brien -- Aluro HealthcareNZ
Dean Young -- BRAVEday Ltd
Mike Ridgway -- Flintfox International Ltd
Neil Barker -- Barker Business Brokerage