Scottie Chapman — Spring Sheep Dairy NZ

Raised on a fifth-generation sheep and beef farm near Kurow, Scottie Chapman (right) didn't discover until three years ago that it was possible to milk sheep commercially.

At a speaking engagement, he'd been approached by the CEO of Landcorp — Government-owned, and New Zealand's biggest farmer — who wanted to discuss finding "higher value uses for sheep".

Operating as a consultant through his marketing company, SCL Group, Chapman took up the challenge. Nothing was off the table: meat, wool, dairy, blood, pet food, nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals and genetics would be considered.

The conclusion: sheep milk represented an "exciting, untapped opportunity", Chapman says. A joint venture was formed between SCL and Landcorp, start-up capital was arranged and the team got going.

Advertisement

"It was a unique private-public partnership, combining Landcorp's professional farming skills with the in-market expertise of SCL Group," he says.

The brief was to establish "proof of concept" for a commercial, NZ-owned and operated sheep dairy business and to create the world's most valuable sheep milk brand.

Testing is under way on farms near Taupo, and AgResearch recently announced it was beginning clinical trials to test sheep milk for human consumption, working with Spring Sheep, the University of Auckland's Liggins Institute and sheep milk producer Blue River Dairy.

Ultimately, the aim is to develop and support a sheep-milk industry in NZ. "New Zealand sheep milk is a supermilk we will take to the world," says Chapman.

"Taste the difference!" Sheep milk, he says, is easier to digest than cows' or goats' milk, has higher levels of key vitamins and minerals, tastes creamier and is less likely to cause allergies and intolerances.

Maree Glading & Jessie Stanley — I Love Food Co

Jessie Stanley (left) and Maree Glading of I love Food Co. Photo / Supplied
Jessie Stanley (left) and Maree Glading of I love Food Co. Photo / Supplied

Selling handmade pies at the Clevedon Farmers' Market was how good friends Jessie Stanley (right, on the left) and Maree Glading (on the right) got the idea that a business opportunity was right under their noses.

It was 2008 and the global financial crisis was in full swing — not an auspicious time to launch a premium product. And the pair, who met years earlier in London, had established corporate careers.

But after they scratched together a mere $3000 in start-up capital, I LOVE PIES was launched. There were no preservatives, no artificial ingredients. The meat and eggs were free range, and back in those early days they made the pies themselves and door-knocked to get them into stores.

Fast-forward 10 years and the ingredients are still wholesome. But Maree and Jessie's range of pies, with their signature sour cream pastry, is now sold in supermarkets and gourmet food stores nationwide.

They're served on Air New Zealand's transtasman and Pacific flights and are the official pies sold at Eden Park and at Auckland Zoo. Last year they launched I LOVE BAKING – a range of cookies.

The pair have tapped the export market, selling to Australian and Asian customers, and revenue is several million dollars a year. They've been profitable since their first year.

Setting up an innovative outsourcing structure has meant the company can quickly grow and meet customer needs. The duo can also focus on what they do best: product innovation, branding, consumer communications and insights.

As they put it, they can turn their mind to any food category that is ripe for innovation and "premiumisation".

James Calver & Alex Magaraggia — Ecoware

Instead of accepting jobs in investment banking, law, or events when they graduated from university, Alex Magaraggia (right, on the right) and James Calver (on the left) scraped together $10,000 each and started their own business.

After buying their first container-load of compostable packaging in 2011, it took three years to break into the packaging market — an industry based on cheap, oil-based plastic products — and break down the resistance to their new way of packaging.

Their aim was to produce sustainable packaging for food and beverages, made from plants and designed to be compostable.

"We had no capital," the pair say, "but the bank backed us and our story."

Using products that rapidly break down, such as corn starch, paper and bamboo fibre, Ecoware's business model is based on a "circular economy", where customers use the packaging, then compost it, helping with the growth of next-generation plants.

The pair, who met at primary school, say it wasn't until they were at university that the penny dropped about plastic "and the fast-approaching environmental crisis we couldn't ignore".

Today, their customers are coffee roasters, councils, stadiums, cafes and large corporate organisations.

Calver and Magaraggia offset all the business' carbon emissions by investing in native forest restoration, and have been New Zealand's only carboNZero certified packaging company for the past four years.

Sharndre Kushor & Jamie Beaton — Crimson Education

Jamie Beaton and Sharndre Kushor (right), both 23, started Crimson Education five years ago with $40 and a Facebook account.

In his graduating year at high school, Beaton received offers to 25 of the world's top-ranked universities and Kushor entered into studies at the University of Auckland. Both agreed there was an information gap for their peers, wondering how to discover the best-fit universities abroad and how to get accepted.

They found themselves regularly advising fellow students on how to increase their chances for admission to top universities.

It became clear that there was an appetite for more information and a need to demystify university admissions pathways.

So in 2013, while Beaton was completing an accelerated degree at Harvard and Kushor was studying for a Bachelor of Health Sciences, Population Health at UoA, Crimson Education was established.

Its aim is to break down the information and geographic barriers to admission to the world's top universities. Crimson does this by offering mentoring, tutoring and "first-class strategy".

Initially, the pair hosted local seminars and talks within schools.

As the company scaled, so did the tech team and the Crimson App was launched.

Through the app, each student has a team of mentors and tutors assigned to guide him/her so they can choose the best university for them, "and confidently apply, with great results".

All up, 2000 tutors are connected to the system which operates around the globe — with 24 offices in countries including New Zealand, Australia, Britain, China, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Scotland, Brazil, Russia, South Africa and the US.

Crimson offers academic tutoring, standardised test preparation, leadership and extra-curricular advising and admissions consulting.

Nick Mowbray — Zuru

In classic start-up style, the Mowbrays — brothers Nick and Mat, and sister Anna — founded what is now one of the world's top five toy companies in a shed on their parents' farm near Cambridge, in the Waikato.

It was 2004, though their entrepreneurial story began nine years earlier when Mat Mowbray, aged 12, won top prize at the NZ Science Fair with a prototype of what was to become their first product, a mini hot-air balloon kit.

After early steps to commercialise the products in the family's shed, and attempts by younger brother Nick to flog it door-to-door around Cambridge, the pair headed for China. Nick was 18 and barely out of school; his brother, who'd begun a university engineering course, decided to throw in his studies and go for broke.

Thirteen years later, the gamble has paid off — in spades. Their company, Zuru, is a top global toy designer, developer, maker and marketer, producing more than 300,000 toys a day. It has more than 5000 staff in seven offices and supplies products to major retailers in more than 120 countries.

Most recently, it has expanded into the fast-moving consumer goods market, distributing products like nappies, pet food, vitamins and razors.

Unlike many fledgling businesses, Zuru has grown organically; it has never taken on debt or outside investors.

But it was hard going at first. Nick recalls the two brothers arriving in China with no money, no contacts and nowhere to live. Their first two nights were spent sleeping in bushes outside a Chinese airport, and while they eventually found a shoebox-sized apartment, for the first two years they lived on $1 a day for food.

But today, their most popular toys, like Bunch O Balloons, Robofish and X-shot, have become household names.

Head office is still in China but the siblings retain close links with New Zealand, with offices in Albany.

- This story is sponsored by EY