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Winners of The Pick:19 ready to take the high road

The five winners of The Pick:19 are looking forward to taking their businesses to the next level after receiving their awards at The Orchard, today (Wednesday, 5 June).

The five winners, whittled down from a shortlist of 15, were: Absolute Stainless, Australasia Moulding, Grinning Gecko, My Goodness! (Wellkit Foods), and Olive & Ash; the Judges’ Choice nomination – a separate category – was presented to Matakohe Architecture and Urbanism.

But today’s event was not just a celebration of the winners – it also highlighted the diversity and range that exemplifies Northland’s entrepreneurs and innovative thinkers.

From a company that distributes plastic manhole chambers, to a 100 per cent plant-based dehydrated mince called ‘Vince’, there was no shortage of inspiring products or ideas on display.

Joseph Stuart, general manager, business innovation and growth at Northland Inc and a member of the judging panel, told the winners that their stickability and dedication had been “really heart-warming” and acknowledged the hard work put in by all the competitors.

“It was extremely hard to draw a line in the sand during the judging process and we had to recalibrate on several occasions before deciding on our five winners,” he said. “That shows you the calibre of this year’s competition.

“There are some unique products among the winners, not just for Northland or New Zealand, but globally too. The Pick is now in its third year and represents a massive opportunity for these companies to go out there and make their mark.”

The judging process concentrated on six key areas: the strength of the business model (does the strategy make sense – do the figures stack up?); the strength and validity of the idea; the positive impact on Northland (its community, environment and economy); use of Northland’s natural resources; the global potential (is there capacity for the business to scale?); and its innovation.

More than 80 people registered for The Pick:19, with its 12 weekly workshops, which was run in association with The Orchard, Callaghan Innovation, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, the New Zealand Regional Business Partner Network, and Ecentre.

The winners will receive a Northland Chamber of Commerce membership and business mentor, through the Business Mentor Association, which is sponsored in turn by the Northland Chamber of Commerce; dinner, bed and breakfast for two at The Duke of Marlborough Hotel in Russell, co-sponsored by The Duke of Marlborough Hotel and Northland Inc; and a media package and business profile, including photographs.

The winners’ reactions

Sue and Simon Mehrtens, of Absolute Stainless – manufacturers of a trolley that makes storage of a jet ski on superyachts easy and safe – said that The Pick had helped the company in terms of how to market their product and “to develop our focus”.

“The story began a couple of years ago when a customer of Simon’s visited with a problem with their existing jet-ski trolley,” Sue said. “It was unstable, difficult to manoeuvre and the wheels would get damaged when stowed. Simon listened to what they wanted and designed a trolley that sat low the ground for excellent stability and ease of mobility. The trolley was such a success that we soon received six more orders, and we haven’t looked back.”

Steve and Shelley McDonald, of Australasia Moulding, are the suppliers of quality European-designed plastic manhole chambers, which are “easy to work with, efficient to install and inherently durable”.

“The Pick has really helped us to streamline our message and get it out there,” Steve said. “It’s helped our marketing considerably too; being a part of The Pick has also helped to provide us with some much-needed clarity going forward. The benefits for our business have been significant already.”

The message from Catherine McNamara, owner of Grinning Gecko – a Whangārei café and cheesery, where customers can see fresh cheese and ice cream being made onsite from locally-sourced organic milk – was equally effusive: “The Pick has proved incredibly valuable going forward. The workshops were particularly beneficial, not just for the calibre of the speakers, but the opportunity they gave us to talk, collaborate and share ideas.”

Grinning Gecko, which been in business since 2013, is based at 81 Port Road, Whangārei, and is “dedicated to making great cheese”.

Sarah Wells is marketing manager of My Goodness! (Wellkit Foods) an exotic dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan ice cream. Each spoonful contains 60 per cent persimmons, which are grown just north of Whangārei in the family orchard. The business is already attracting international attention. “We’re looking to Australia and have started exporting to the Asian market; I’ve even had a French magazine get in touch with me,” Sarah said.

“The Pick has really allowed us to expand on our business model, to refocus and concentrate on our structure. It’s been so exciting watching things take off during the past few months.”

Nigel and Debbie Stowe are the owners of Whangārei-based Olive & Ash, a 100 per cent plant-based vegetable mince, called Vince; Vince is dehydrated mince – just add water and it is ready to eat in two minutes. “The idea was to make a vegetable mince, hence the name Vince,” Nigel explained.

“The real driving force behind the concept was to try to get people to eat more vegetables, and to create a quick healthy meal for the family,” he added. “The Pick workshops were really helpful for us; apart from anything else, those weekly deadlines held us to account and kept us right up to the mark.”

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