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If you look at it slightly askew there's a general biological theme to the three winners of a $1 million prize in the University of Auckland's Business School Entrepreneurs' Challenge.

But the businesses that now have some welcome additional growth funding are a mile away from commodity price takers as they look to expand into offshore markets.

As well as a capital injection from a fund established with a $3 million donation by expatriate businessman Charles Bidwell, the two Auckland and one Pukekohe based businesses will all receive mentoring from the challenge's organisers.

Bidwell was closely involved with Ceramco, Bendon, Baycorp and Steel & Tube in the 1980s and 1990s, and has helped establish the challenge with the aim of creating an entrepreneurial culture. The prize is in the form of a three-year loan.

The three companies have all been profiled in sticK, and all showed a passion and commitment to doing well for themselves and the country. They were:

Biomatters - biological research software that puts an easy to use, graphical interface on the huge amounts of DNA data routinely used by geneticists

Greentide - Biologically-based pesticide manufacturers; using entomopathogens to achieve insect control that is at least as good as chemical control

Piako Gourmet Yoghurt - creators of a new, creamier more luxuriant fruit infused yoghurt and segment

Biomatters (see original sticK story) is focusing on the U.S. market, and having established a footprint in academic circles is also concentrating on the commercial applications of its software. Unlike some of its competitors, where scientists have to be virtual computer engineers to manipulate and understand the DNA data, the company has created graphic-type interfaces that are easy to use and understand. That is, the type of desktop applications that a general computer user has grown up with.

Piako Gourmet Yoghurt is in the process of opening a British production plant, and intends having the premium yoghurt in Harrods by Christmas. Founder manager Shaun Jacka, who displayed a refreshing confidence is predicting he was going to be a winner before the event, says the winnings have already been spent in establishing his version of the empire striking back.

Greentide is gearing up its production, and its managing director Stephen Ford will spend the capital boost in the sped up purchase of additional bioreactors in which to grow the fungal killer whose spores are turned into a form that vegetable growers can easily add to their current spraying platforms. The spores themselves can be safely eaten (if you so desired!).

At a time when New Zealand's biologically-based industries are closely examining how they reposition themselves for the future; such value-added products, with different forms of intellectual property protection, are an inspiration for other businesses.

We will watch them with interest.

Entrepreneurs' Challenge winners all have a biological look about them - how can that be?

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