Top entrepreneur finalists named

Xero boss Rod Drury, oversize shoe retailer Georgie Falloon and Synlait Milk boss Dr John Penno are among 18 finalists competing for the 2013 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award.

The 18, from a diverse range of businesses and locations around New Zealand, are due to meet the judging panel in coming weeks.

Five category winners will be announced on August 26. These five will face the judges again in October, with the overall award announced at a dinner in Auckland on October 17.

The Kiwi winner will represent New Zealand at the World Entrepreneur of the Year contest in Monaco.

Among the Auckland finalists are chef and founder of Loaf Handcraft Breads Sean Armstrong, managing director of IT services company ClearPoint Phil Pietersen, and founder of tax pooling company Tax Management NZ Ian Kuperus.

Armstrong was nominated for the award by a friend, and was surprised to get the nod.

"You never think of yourself as being leading and entrepreneurial and all that kind of stuff."

After nine years in business the artisan bakery now has 50 staff.

"We're very much a family-run business. People don't work at Loaf, they're part of the team. You're only as good as the people you surround yourself with," he said.

Pietersen said he got involved in the E&Y programme because of the networking opportunities it offered.

"If you look at the list of years there's some fantastic people there, and they all do turn up (at alumni events)," he said.

"To be a finalist is a great honour. We're still a relatively small company compared to previous companies, so I don't expect to win."

ClearPoint's rapid growth in just five-and-a-half years may have impressed selectors, he believed. The company now has 100 staff.

His own background of growing up during the civil war in Zimbabwe and the tough times he faced was also part of the story, he said.

Ian Kuperus put his name forward for the award at the suggestion of Ernst and Young.

"It's been a good exercise to do in terms of looking at our business," he said.

His company Tax Management NZ, which helps firms manage their tax debt, is celebrating 10 years in business.

"It's a nice time to put our business forward.

"We're a world first in what we're doing and we played a key part in getting the government to change the legislation to allow us to offer the tax pooling services."

Awards director Jon Hooper said despite the diverse industries they operated in, nearly all the finalists had achieved double digit growth in the past four years.

"Equally important in the current market is the growth of employee numbers that each of this year's finalists has achieved.

"This makes it vital that the contribution entrepreneurs make to our nation's economic and financial viability is acknowledged by giving them a seat at the table with policy makers," he said.

Finalists for 2013

- Sean Armstrong (Loaf Handcraft Breads)

- Dr Hartley Atkinson (AFT Pharmaceuticals)

- Lester Binns (

- Jennifer Boggiss (Heilala Vanilla)

- Mark Bryan (VetSouth)

- Rod Drury (Xero)

- Georgie Falloon (Willow Shoes)

- John Fiso (NZ Institute of Sport)

- Steve Gianoutsos (Mojo Coffee)

- Murray Holdaway (Vista Entertainment Solutions)

- Guy Horrocks (Carnival Labs)

- Ian Kuperus (Tax Management NZ)

- Sam Minnee (SilverStripe)

- Dr John Penno (Synlait Milk)

- Phil Pietersen (ClearPoint)

- John Plato (Plato Design Agency)

- Cecilia Robinson (My Food Bag/Au Pair Link)

- Ryan Sanders (Haka Tourism Group)