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Progressive Meats' Hickson wins EY Entrepreneur of the Year

Progressive Meats founder Craig Hickson wins EY Entrepreneur of the Year

By Fiona Rotherham

Oct. 15 (BusinessDesk) - Craig Hickson, the founder of meat processor Progressive Meats, has been named EY Entrepreneur of the Year for 2015.

Hickson, who had won the award’s products category, was chosen out of a field of five other category winners. The judges said Hickson demonstrated a level of innovation and entrepreneurship that was unusual and exceptional in a traditional industry.

Judging panel chair Greg Cross said this year’s decision was one of the closest the panel has ever made, and that the winner demonstrated the focus of entrepreneurs on constant improvement and continuous innovation. “The calibre of entrepreneurs in New Zealand just gets better and better across all categories."

Hickson, who has university degrees in food technology, economics and marketing, worked for the New Zealand Meat Producers Board for five years until he saw an opportunity to pack frozen lamb chops using a new technology.

He and his wife launched Progressive Meats in 1981 and today it is an integrated business employing more than 2,000 people and is involved in venison, lamb, and beef farming, procurement, slaughter, processing, value add, and export.

When named agri-businessperson of the year in 2012, Hickson said the company had always focused on innovation and “we’ve become relatively good at it”, he told NBR.

He will represent New Zealand at EY’s World Entrepreneur of the Year event in Monaco next June, competing for the title against winners from more than 60 countries.

Fashion designer and philanthropist Annah Stretton won the social entrepreneur of the year award for her work with RAW (Reclaim Another Woman), an initiative which mentors women in prison and then educates them on their release to support changing their lives away from crime and into mainstream employment.

Stretton, an entrepreneur of the year category winner in 2005, started RAW in 2013 after being approached by the Waikato Women’s Refuge to help secure additional private sector funding. After a visit to a safe house, Stretton said she realised many were young mothers deeply immersed in a life of violence and crime that would become normalised for their children too, unless there was radical intervention.

Initially RAW matched mentors with women in refuges but Stretton said progress was slow because they regressed as soon as they returned to their disruptive environments. She proposed working with women in prisons while they were in a calmer and disciplined space and placing them in incubation houses in the Waikato on their release from jail to help continue their studies and reintegrate them into mainstream employment.

Stretton has largely funded the $60,000 of costs so far from her philanthropic foundation but is seeking government and corporate support to scale the programme which she said has proven successful with seven women out of jail and another 50 inside prison on the pathway.

RAW claims to provide a more effective funding model, estimating the cost of changing outcomes for just one woman at around $138,000 compared to $2 million in a lifetime of repeat offending and social welfare support.

The aim is to boost the current two incubation houses to 15 by the end of next year. The houses are largely self-funding with the women handing over their benefits in exchange for upkeep and Stretton has also set up a retail presence, In Excess, with sales of donated goods going back to the programme.

While RAW was initially set up to help women, Stretton said she’s now re-thinking the logo as the programme has been extended to men with the first inmates in Rimutaka Prison due out in March next year.

“There’s a much bigger need with the men,” she said.

One male inmate on the programme is a 34-year-old recidivist who has fathered 20 children and Stretton said to make a difference to socially-disadvantaged children, there was a need to first change the way their parents lived.

Stretton said she has always had a philanthropic bent, working with existing charities but saw a gap for the initiative and realised education could be a game-changer for a massive New Zealand problem.

“If you educate people and find their passion they won’t need to work on minimum wage or live off benefits that they then supplement with drugs and crime,” she said.


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