A quintet of innovators have been named as finalists in this year's EY Entrepreneur of the Year awards.

More than 45 countries take part in the annual EY competition, choosing a national winner who then heads to Monaco to compete for the world title.

After a drawn-out judging process, the NZ panel named Ihaka Rongonui from Turbo Staff as the winner of the Young category, Peter Harris from CBL Corporation as winner of the Master category, Dairyworks' Peter Cross as the Products category winner, Andy Prow from RedShield Security as the Services category winner and Onguard Group's Will Lomax as the Technology and Emerging Industries category winner.

The five will now compete for the title of Entrepreneur Of The Year New Zealand, with the winner announced on October 12.


Last year's New Zealand winner, Rocket Lab chief executive Peter Beck, says the experience was an amazing one.

"Winning the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year Award provides a great opportunity to represent New Zealand on a world stage, and to showcase Rocket Lab as a fantastic example of what New Zealand innovation and entrepreneurship is capable of," Beck says.

"It's a huge honour -- whether you're a sportsman or an entrepreneur, representing your country is the ultimate."

Judging panel chair Anne Norman says this year's finalist list was an impressive one -- although she noted the lack of women. Of the 17 category contenders, just one was a woman -- lawyer Mai Chen.

"We are delighted by the diversity and calibre of the finalists, and while we are concerned about the lack of female entrepreneurs putting their names forward for selection, we are heartened by the fact that last year three of the six category winners were women and they were absolutely superb," she says.

"We look forward to seeing a similar level of female participation next year."

The applicant list was largely dominated by early-stage businesses, Norman says.

Andy Prow has dedicated himself to developing technology to keep online attacks at bay. The panel said that although his firm RedShield was a relatively early-stage company, it had an impressive client base with a lot of potential, adding that they "look forward to him becoming a tech star out of New Zealand".

Onguard Group is also a relatively young business. Prompted by a big shake in 2013, founder Will Lomax created a way to stop wineries' liquid assets going down the drain in an earthquake.

He developed the idea of a seismic system which protects wine tanks during aftershocks, preserving not only the wine, but also business continuity and market share.

The judging panel described this as "number eight fencing wire, taken to the next level".

"Onguard was born out of the Christchurch earthquakes, and proven last year during the Kaikoura quakes," the panel said. "So disaster has spawned a business that could have worldwide implications. It has tremendous potential in the next couple of years to take off globally."

Dairyworks was also touted as being a company at the heart of what New Zealand manufacturing is all about, with the panel saying Peter Cross had taken it from strength to strength -- particularly in the Asian markets where his business competes strongly with Fonterra.

Set up in the South Island's Temuka district, Dairyworks makes a variety of products, including cheese and ice-cream.

Ihaka Rongonui's business Turbo Staff was also born out of an earthquake, with Rongonui deciding to help with the Christchurch rebuild.

Rather than focus solely on staff recruitment, his goal and business model was to double as an accommodation supplier for workers, along with a "fly in/fly out" placement service.

The company has local and international workers. The judging panel said they were impressed with the opportunities Rongonui was giving to people in under-developed countries, to come to New Zealand and learn new skills.

"He has built a profitable business in a short space of time," the panel said. "It has a lot of potential and he has a strong strategy for expanding into Australia.

"There are two strands to his business, recruitment and housing, and he has been able to monetise both. He has even had one of his people certified as an immigration consultant, so he's looking at his business very holistically."

In contrast to the younger businesspeople, Peter Harris of CBL Corporation is what the judges described as "a true master entrepreneur". The panel said CBL -- a specialist insurer and reinsurer -- was a mature business that had taken on the world from New Zealand, with 98 per cent of its client base overseas.

"The work [Harris] is doing with under-privileged people in Mexico is particularly impressive," the panel said.

"We really like the way he has coped with the rigours of becoming a public company -- from being his own boss to floating and going public and, now, growing his share price."

The winners will face the judging panel again, before an overall winner is announced and named EY New Zealand Entrepreneur Of The Year, before heading to Monaco.