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Best for Bluelab in business export awards

Tauranga tech company the supreme winner in NZ International Business Awards.

Kate McVicar Fri, 18 Feb 2022

Bay of Plenty precision growing technology business Bluelab is the supreme winner of the New Zealand International Business Awards 2021.

The Tauranga company provides high-precision measurement technology for controlled environment agriculture, including greenhouses, vertical farms, and hydroponic production. It has been in operation for more than 30 years and previously won the Excellence in Innovation category in 2019, the same year the company featured in NBR's Radar (see video interview below).  

The company also picked up the award for Excellence in Digital Commerce Transformation, presented by Economic and Regional Development Minister Stuart Nash.

Judges said Bluelab's success was driven "by a high level of customer understanding and being present at every step of the customer journey." They also praised the company for its embrace of digital channels to improve customer experience and its own business resilience during the Covid pandemic. 

CEO Greg Jarvis had already been running Bluelab for more than a decade when he realised a different approach could pay dividends.

The former Ballance AgriNutrients executive bought the Tauranga-based Bluelab business in 2000 when it was mainly a hydroponics supply company – providing the equipment for growers using the water-based plant production system, particularly in the Pacific Islands. Its other, much smaller, business line was electronics products – the design, manufacture and marketing of devices to measure nutrients in plant-growing media and it was here that Jarvis saw the most potential.

The product range focuses on measuring three factors – pH, conductivity and temperature – to analyse nutrient solutions in greenhouses and, more recently, in soil-based horticulture.

In 2018 Tauranga-based private equity investor Oriens Capital bought into Bluelab, taking a 32.6% stake which it exited in full last year when Pioneer Capital and the NZ Superannuation Fund took a near 70% stake, while Jarvis and his wife Mandy hold just under 30%.

The winners

The awards ceremony was broadcast free online last night for the first time in its 58-year history, a move the organisers made due to Covid disruption.

“Taking the event online was a big step for us, but it gave us a uniquely public platform to share some of the amazing business stories we encountered,” convenor of judges David Downs said.

Other award winners included:

Dawn Aerospace’s Mk-II spaceplane takes flight from Glentanner Airport.

Dawn Aerospace, which provides high-performance green-propellant satellite propulsion to customers globally, won Overall best emerging business. The New Zealand-Dutch space transportation company is also developing a same-day reusable suborbital spaceplane and held five test flights in New Zealand last July.  The Christchurch-based company raised an undisclosed amount of money from investors, including the country’s largest tech investment firm, Movac, in late May 2021,  in the form of convertible notes that convert to equity at a discount in the next Series A round.

Moa Holdings NZ won a special award for extraordinary growth in the emerging business category. It is building a simple retail,marketing and distribution platform that helps New Zealand brands to get their products to consumers worldwide. The judges said it was a "phenomenal success story", having had impressive export growth in the past 18 months. 

Better Packaging Co, which supplies a range of zero waste recyclable and home compostable packaging to the eCommerce industry, won the excellence in sustainability award. The judges were impressed by the sustainable impact the company, which is trying to design the waste out of packaging through innnovative materials and clever design, had at scale soon after launching the business. It was founded in 2018 by Rebecca Percasky and Kate Bezar.

Liz Berryman

The inspiring women leader award went to Chnnl founder Dr Liz Berryman whose mental health insights platform is helping employers and employeers transform their organisations. The judges said Berryman was an "authentic, genuine leader who knows her stuff - with a focus on empowering other leaders and members of her team to bring their special sauce and move the dial for Chnnl's customers.

Les Mills International won the innovation in response to Covid-19 award, with the judges praising the global fitness company for rapidly diversifying its service offerings and adopting a digital mindset in response to the pandemic. The company led by NBR Lister Phillip Mills sold 18% of the family business to outside investor, the Accident Compensation Corporation, in late 2020 as Covid disruptions hit the gym business hard.  While gym class royalties fell, the company had a big boost in the sales of home gym equipment and Les Mills On Demand subscriptions. 

Auckland-based Fuel50 won the award for leveraging investment for international growth. The career engagement tech firm last year raised US$10.5 million ($14.9m) and secured US$5m in new debt from a Silicon Valley bank to fund expansion through America, Australasia, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Founded in 2003 by friends Anne Fulton and Jo Mills, the company’s technology is used by some of the world’s largest corporations – the likes of Ebay, Hewlett-Packard, and Coca-Cola.

Global Metal Solutions, a whanau-led business with its roots in Ngati Maniapoto, took out the award for Māori excellence in export. It provides premium metal recycling services in New Zealand and the Pacific. The judges were impressed by its "authenticity as a Māori-owned and operated business with tikanga Māori integral to its operations". 

And the best established business award went to Christchurch-based Seequent, which delivers industry-leading geological software. A previous Supreme award winner in 2018, Seequent impressed the judges again with its focus on continuous improvement and reinvention and its growth potential in emerging and established export markets. The company was bought by Nasdaq-listed Bentley Systems for more than $1 billion in 2021 and Seequent has made a number of smaller company acquisitions since then.

 

Bluelab CEO Bruce Jarvis was talking on Radar in December, 2019.

Kate McVicar Fri, 18 Feb 2022
Contact the Writer: kate@nbr.co.nz
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Best for Bluelab in business export awards
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