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Businessman Charles Bidwill draws a straight line between the success of the All Blacks and New Zealand's business environment.

"I'd like to see a culture in New Zealand that applies to business a bit the same as what applies to the All Blacks and that is you win. Full stop," said Bidwill.

"You don't lose, you win. There's no such thing as losing." Bidwill is prepared to put his money where his mouth is too.

He's slapped $3 million on the table to benefit aspiring New Zealand companies seeking capital to push through to international success.

The money forms the foundation of the University of Auckland Business School Entrepreneurs' Challenge, a Dragons' Den-style competition offering the chance to win up to $1 million of funding and mentoring from business leaders.

The challenge is aimed at businesses which have some track record rather than those at the start-up stage, with a preference for those that are either exporting or have export potential.

"We want to really show if somebody believes they've got a good future, that they've already got off their rear end and made an effort, that there is really now some good support for somebody who has got the potential," said Bidwill.

Bidwill is clearly passionate about backing entrepreneurs.

"I don't think New Zealand has been particularly good in the past in supporting entrepreneurial-type people and companies," he said.

"I feel there is a very risk-averse attitude in New Zealand and quite often you've really got to prove yourself and really be there before you can get a lot of assistance, especially funding. Certainly in my time there was never a pool of funds that really were put aside as what I would call risk capital.

"I've known a few instances over my life where people have left New Zealand and gone to Australia to do it where there has always been, I think, a more open approach to backing risk and funding risk to what there was in New Zealand."

The idea for the challenge came from a similar competition run by one of the high-street banks in Britain.

But Bidwill believes the strength of the New Zealand version is the ability for the winners to tap into the best of the business brains at Auckland University and the wider business community.

"Just offering money doesn't really achieve much, it's just part of a package, part of a formula," said Bidwill

"The big thing which I think is extremely important, which is what we're also doing, is mentoring by a very successful person in that particular business."

He admits to a certain amount of envy at what is on offer, saying if a package like the challenge had been available when he was starting out in business, it would have been like all his Christmases had come at once.

Bidwill's was a name that featured regularly in the business pages through the 80s and 90s.

He began his career as a stockbroker, becoming the country's youngest broker as a member of the Auckland Stock Exchange in the mid-60s at the age of 26.

But it was the economic upheavals of the 1980s that saw Bidwill move from the trading floor to be associated with iconic New Zealand companies, including Ceramco, Bendon, Baycorp and Steel & Tube, alongside business high-flyer Alan Gibbs.

Bidwill has kept a low profile since leaving New Zealand in 1997 and now lives in England at Wentworth in Surrey.

Although he maintains his membership of the Business Roundtable, Bidwill has severed all links with New Zealand businesses and returns here infrequently. While he may have stepped away from business on a day-to-day basis, he is still in touch with the markets, trading currency and bonds.

"Ideally I'm trying to play a half-decent game of golf. That seems to be more difficult than trading on the markets unfortunately," Bidwill said.

Chairman of the Entrepreneurs' Challenge investment committee and sometime golfing partner Brian Hannan describes Bidwill's endowment as unselfish and generous.

"He doesn't spend a lot of time in New Zealand but he acknowledges that he did well here," said Hannan. "He's a really strong, self-disciplined guy, a successful businessman, he doesn't tolerate fools, but he really cares about others doing well and he really wants to see New Zealand and New Zealand businesses do really well.

"He believes that New Zealanders have a huge talent for business. We're an enterprising and creative class of people. He, like many of us, has seen New Zealanders do extremely well overseas and frequently working overseas for big and successful companies. New Zealanders frequently do well in those environments and I suppose what we're looking to do as much as anything is to retain the benefit of that excellence more closely for New Zealand."

While New Zealand's economic success may be tied to retaining our best and brightest business brains, Bidwill sees pushing beyond our borders as key to driving prosperity.

He is convinced Asia will be a key source of revenue for exporting companies, particularly entrepreneurs prepared to move quickly and nimbly to garner a niche within the massive Asian population.

"I just think that Asia is the place to be. This century is going to be Asia's turn. Europe's had their turn, America's had their turn. All the action, all the wealth creation is going to be in Asia, and New Zealand is absolutely fantastically placed. It's just a case of being very, very smart and having the incentives, having the policies put into place where it enables people to thrive and benefit in being able to go out."

Bidwill said the Government should look to cut taxes, citing the examples of Switzerland, Hong Kong and Singapore which tax at half the rate of New Zealand, and slash welfare spending.

"I think a lot of the things that have held New Zealand back over the last 30, 40 years has been this huge cost of the welfare state and where you have got big government expenditures you've got to have high tax. I think that's been a very big drag on the ability for New Zealand to expand.

"The basic philosophy of [the Entrepreneurs' Challenge] is really the start of creating an entrepreneurial culture where the creation of wealth and success becomes a part of New Zealand life. That is not a short-term exercise that's a long-term exercise."

CHARLES BIDWILL
* Born in Hawkes Bay, attended Christ's College in Christchurch and Auckland University part-time.
* A member of the Auckland Stock Exchange at the age of 26, the youngest stockbroker at that time, then became the youngest to retire in 1981.
* Teamed up with Alan Gibbs in the 1980s and through the next decade was associated with Ceramco, Bendon, Baycorp and Steel & Tube.
* A hearing problem, exacerbated by flying, was cited as the reason for stepping away from day-to-day company management in the 1990s.
* Since 1997 has been based in Britain.

THE RULES
* Entries are invited from companies seeking funding for growth or expansion.
* The ideal candidate will have a minimum revenue of $1 million.
* Exporters or those with potential to export will be preferred.
* Applicants should have been in business for two years and show financial accounts for that period.
* Companies should not be property or banking related.
* Funding will be negotiated on a case-by-case basis, with up to $1 million available on favourable terms.
* Investment will most likely be in the form of a convertible note with repayment in full after three years.
* Entries close August 21, 5pm.
* Winners will be announced in November.