Twenty-two businesspeople from 17 businesses and industries are vying for the 2018 EY Entrepreneur of the Year.

This year's finalists are: James Annabell (Egmont Honey), Chin Abeywickrama (Netlogix), Grant & Merryn Straker (Straker Translations), Nick Mowbray (Zuru), Breccan McLeod-Lundy (Rabid Technologies), Lisa King (Eat My Lunch), Craig Smith (Education Perfect), Danny Tomsett (FaceMe), Aaron McDonald (Centrality Investments), Anne Fulton & Jo Mills (Fuel50), Craig Piggott (Halter), Maree Glading & Jessie Stanley (I love Ltd), Sharndre Kushor & Jamie Beaton (Crimson), Elizabeth Barbalich (Antipodes), Dan Fowlie (Trineo), Scottie Chapman (Spring Sheep), Alex Magaraggia & James Calver (Ecoware).

Seaworks chairman Bill Day, who heads the judging panel and was Entrepreneur of the Year in 2000, said he was blown away by the businesses in the competition.

This year's New Zealand winner will compete in the World Entrepreneur of the Year in Monaco in 2019.

Advertisement

Some of the businesspeople competing to be 2018 EY Entrepreneur Of The Year:

Breccan McLeod-Lundy — Rabid Technologies

Breccan McLeod-Lundy (right), the 29-year-old CEO of Rabid Technologies, knew from an early age he wanted to start a business, with the proviso that it somehow had to make the world a better place.

His first attempt, at 18, collapsed within a year. After dusting himself off and working at a "real job" for a couple of years to build up cash reserves, he was ready to try again.

The result was Rabid Technologies, which, he says, "builds technology that is good for the world". That can mean creating web, iOS or Android applications for clients such as NZ Post, NZX, Worksafe, Oranga Tamariki, Voyce, Skylight Trust and PledgeMe.

On the face of it, Rabid might look like other Wellington development shops, taking on projects and delivering technical solutions.

"What sets Rabid apart is our purpose and our values," McLeod-Lundy says. "We think carefully about the type of work we want to do and where we can make a positive impact.

This manifests itself in us chasing particular clients — for example, government departments with projects that can impact on millions of people or community organisations like Skylight Trust, which helps young people through grief, loss and trauma ..."

Other clients and projects include crowdfunding platform PledgeMe — where Rabid is also a shareholder — NZ Navigator (an online self-assessment tool for non-profit organisations) and The Pack, an app for student safety.

Craig Smith — Education Perfect

At 18, Craig Smith vowed to be financially independent by the time he was 30. Just months short of his 30th birthday, the co-founder of Education Perfect has largely succeeded.

At high school Smith had created a digital vocabulary revision tool to help himself learn French and Japanese. This morphed into a full online platform, with software developed by his brother and co-founder, Shane.

Education Perfect is designed to complement traditional classroom teaching. More languages have since been added, along with maths, science, English and the humanities.

Craig Smith quit university and learned the hard way — by asking questions, challenging traditional ways of doing things and making mistakes. Like many entrepreneurs, Smith has his quirks.

In his case, "disciplined habits" such as being in bed by 8pm every night for four years (including New Year's Eve) and having a daily dip in the freezing ocean around Dunedin, even when it was snowing. This enabled him to "confront discomfort" and gave him the confidence to take on the challenges of a start-up.

The company was initially funded in 2007 with $20,000 he won in a university business competition. It has grown rapidly, with staff numbers increasing to 125. Nowadays 80 per cent of revenue comes from offshore, and over 550,000 students from 1200 schools around the world are using the platform.

In December last year, Five V Capital and Mulpha International took substantial stakes in Education Perfect, thus enabling Smith (right) to realise his dream of financial independence. He and his brother retain material shareholdings in the company and continue to guide its strategic direction as non-executive directors.

Danny Tomsett — FaceMe

Aucklander Danny Tomsett (below right) is a big believer in face-to-face communication — so much so that his company, FaceMe, has invested several million dollars into developing Digital Humans for its clients so digital conversations can become more "human".

This month, FaceMe made global headlines by cloning Daniel Kalt, the regional chief economist and chief investment officer at Swiss-based UBS bank, and programming the avatar to answer client questions that the real Daniel Kalt had trained it to deliver.

To Tomsett, it adds a "human touch" to digital conversations. These avatars (or digital humans) can see, hear and where appropriate, remember customers, he says.

FaceMe was not always an artificial intelligence (AI) company. It was founded eight years ago to provide frictionless video conferencing between businesses and their customers.

But in 2016, Tomsett decided he wanted to take FaceMe in a radical new direction. Not only has it produced the first digital assistant in the Australasian banking sector but also the world's first digital biosecurity officer at Auckland International Airport, who can answer simple questions.

FaceMe has several New Zealand clients, including ASB, BNZ and the Ministry for Primary Industries. Globally, it works with IBM, UBS and is currently implementing a number of pilots with other large banks, telecommunications and technology companies.

Digital communication, says Tomsett, must embody brand and create "feeling" experiences. Nothing is more effective than tone and body language, he says.

Grant & Merryn Straker — Straker Translations

Within a few months of meeting in 1999, Grant and Merryn Straker (below right) decided to quit their jobs and start a business in an industry where they had no experience.

Initially, the business was a software development company; Grant had taught himself code after leaving the British army. He cashed in his army pension and Merryn tossed in her life savings.

After what they describe as a 10-year apprenticeship, the pair have developed a cloud-enabled, global translation service.

Key to their operation is a powerful, multi-lingual, web-based content-management platform — an invention that enables human translators to deliver not only more quickly and more accurately, but also more cheaply.

Since 1999 the Strakers have served more than 50,000 customers. They have sales offices in nine countries with production centres in Auckland and Barcelona.

Grant, of Ngāti Raukawa, is a strong advocate for Maori in technology. The company is working with the Gisborne Regional Council and mayor to set up a satellite office in the city.

James Annabell — Egmont Honey

James Annabell says his company makes "the world's purest and finest honey", plus paleo-friendly superfoods and bee venom skincare products.

Plenty of punters seem to agree. Co-founded with his father Toby in New Plymouth in 2015, Egmont Honey has experienced huge growth in the past three years.

It began with 100 hives; there are now 4000 and the business buys in 700 tonnes of honey a year.

Last year, to raise more capital and ramp up its global aspirations, Egmont sold 51 per cent of its shares to The Better Health Company, a New Zealand business majority owned by Singaporean hedge fund CDH Investments, with US$20 billion under management.

The move has also given Egmont access to the networks and companies CDH owns worldwide.

Today the business exports to 16 countries. Its customers include well-known wellness brands, large supermarket chains such as Woolworths Australia and two large Chinese supermarket chains with over 1000 stores between them.

Egmont Honey, says James Annabell (right), is integrated from the hive to the pot.

He has been in the industry since 2009, when he was approached to work for Watson & Sons, New Zealand's biggest manuka honey producer. Annabell recognised that there was a great opportunity for him and his father, who has years of agriculture experience, to go it alone and form Egmont Honey.

Lisa King — Eat My Lunch

Like most fledgling entrepreneurs, Lisa King (below right) found getting her business off the ground was tough.

Probably the lowest point was when a bank manager said her idea was "stupid" and "would never make money". Undeterred, King quit the corporate world, where she had spent the previous 15 years, and launched Eat My Lunch from her kitchen table with only $50,000.

Within three months, King says she'd reached her three-year targets.

Her business works on a "buy one, give one" basis. It's an online fresh food delivery service, aimed at helping to feed 25,000 children in Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington who go to school each day without lunch.

For every meal bought through her company, she gives a lunch to a kid in need. To date, Eat My Lunch has supplied 869,649 lunches in 78 low-decile schools.

The goal, she says, is "to ensure no child at school goes hungry, starting with kids right here in our own backyard".

It's not a charity, though Eat My Lunch has 12,000 volunteers supporting its 42 staff. "Everything we do must make commercial sense and deliver on our social purpose," King says.

The business has grown rapidly through social media marketing and word of mouth. If you want to volunteer, there's a two- or three-month waiting list. King says "the model can be replicated anywhere in the world".

Foodstuffs North Island has taken a 26 per cent stake and King has forged corporate partnerships with Air NZ, Spark, CCA, Z Energy, and with social entrepreneur Sir Ray Avery.