You might not have heard of Gulf War exile Mohammed Hikmet.
But you will have seen his work.
The first major company he founded with his brother Ahmed, Auckland-based HMI Technologies, is responsible for most of the interactive road signs around Australia and New Zealand - think the solar-powered numbers that register your speed, then tell you to slow down, or the motorway overpass efforts that have recently been telling us to keep calm.
His second, HMI subsidiary Ohmio Automation, is making self-driving electric vehicles - as used by anchor customer Christchurch Airport, and as-seen-on-TV in that Spark 5G.
Hikmet was named EY NZ Entrepreneur of the Year 2019, following in the footsteps of previous winners Zuru co-founder Nick Mowbray and Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck.
And today he lined up as one of the finalists for EY's World Entrepreneur of the Year 2020. Although he didn't take home the big prize - that crown went to Dr Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw of India-based Biocon Limited - Hikmet did New Zealand proud.
As a 22-year-old in Baghdad, Iraq, Hikmet turned his tinkering on old motherboards into a fledgling computer repair business with his brother.
But when the 1991 Iraq war started, he was forced to leave the business and flee to Jordan. There, living without official sanction or security, he and Ahmed transformed his computer business into a small satellite receiver manufacturing operation. After five years of uncertainty, Hikmet and his family finally landed in New Zealand in 1996 - arriving with nothing.
He enrolled at AUT, where he would arrive at 6am to cram in some study before his lectures started.
"Then I would go on-site to fix computers during the afternoon," he says.
"And then at 6.30pm I go to a pizza shop to deliver pizza until 11pm.
"I was doing three shifts a day, but it's all worth it and it's all paid back. This is what I just love about New Zealand. It's a place where if you work hard, it pays back. You can really get the reward. You can really feel the result of your hard work.
"There are so many where I come from who work so hard, but the opportunity is not there."
The leap from electronic signs to self-driving vehicles is not an obvious one, but Hikmet says it grew from a desire to have interactive signs communicate directly with cars. None of the automakers were up for cooperation, so Hikmet decided to create his own smart vehicle.
Coals to Newcastle
The result was the Ohmio, which is a modular design that can be customised to carry people or freight, using pre-programmed routes and Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) sensors in lieu of a human driver.
In 2019, Ohmio signed a joint manufacturing deal with a Chinese partner - a local government agency tied to the city of Heshan in the southern part of Guangdong Province.
The joint venture's first significant customer was South Korea's Southwest Coast Enterprise City Development, or SolaSeaDo for short - a futuristic public-private bid to build a giant apartment complex-cum-smart city.
And now, post-lockdown, the first two Ohmios have been sent to SolaSeaDo, with a third about to follow.
The smart city development will buy up to 268 Ohmio shuttles - some of which will carry up to 22 people standing, and some of which will ferry goods between its buildings or collect waste.
"South Korea is one of the very important vehicle manufacturers in the world so for New Zealand to export in the other direction, it's quite significant," Hikmet says.
Advice for budding entrepreneurs
To start the entrepreneurial fire, "you need oxygen, you need fuel and you need a spark. These are the three factors. You can't miss any of them."
He sees the culture of opportunity he's found in New Zealand as the "oxygen".
"You also need the spark of the idea and the fuel is to work hard," he says.
"Work hard, work hard, work hard.
"It's normal for people to tell you, 'Oh you cannot do it. You are a foreigner', or you are you are too young, too old or whatever. They could give you 10 excuses, and I'll give you another 20. But you can do it, if you believe in yourself. New Zealand is one of the best places in the world to do it. So just believe in yourself and go ahead and do it."
For challenge, see opportunity
As an entrepreneur, what does Hikmet make of the coronavirus outbreak that has locked down economies and thrown much of the world into recession?
"I've learned through all my life, that whenever there is a challenge, there is an opportunity. So change the challenge to an opportunity," Hikmet says.
"Covid-19 is affecting everyone in the world. So what is happening now? Everyone is keeping their head down, trying to be careful. And what you need to do is stand up."
With others cowering, now is the time to pursue your big idea, he says.