Supporting emerging business into export markets will be pivotal for New Zealand's future prosperity, Prime Minister John Key told a business audience last night.

Speaking at the launch of the University of Auckland Business School Entrepreneurs' Challenge, Key said distance from major markets meant New Zealand companies were forced to compete globally at a much earlier stage than even their Australian counterparts.

The Prime Minister said while the Government could provide the regulatory and infrastructure environment to support companies, the university would give entrepreneurs the skills to compete on the world stage, turbocharging international growth.

The Dragons' Den-style Entrepreneurs' Challenge offers growing companies the chance to win up to $1 million of funding and mentoring from business leaders.

Funding for the competition came from the coffers of Charles Bidwill, the UK-based New Zealand businessman who was associated with Ceramco and Baycorp in the 1980s and 1990s.

He has put $3 million on the table to kickstart a fund aimed at strengthening the New Zealand business environment and stimulating the wider economy.

Bidwill wasn't on hand to launch the challenge, opting to appear via a pre-recorded video presentation instead.