Zuru director Nick Mowbray was named EY Entrepreneur of the Year for 2018.
The co-founder of toy designer, developer and manufacturer Zuru was named EY entrepreneur of the year on Thursday night in Auckland.
Nick Mowbray will now represent New Zealand at the EY world entrepreneur of the year competition in France next June, vying with winners from more than 50 countries for the top award.
Along with his siblings Mat and Anna, Mowbray started Zuru in a shed on their parents’ farm near Cambridge in 2004.
Today it is one of the world’s top toy companies, with more than 5000 staff working in 17 offices around the globe.
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At the awards Mowbray said his first big deal came when he was 19 and managed to convince Walmart to buy 800,000 pieces of a tamagotchi-style football game he had not yet developed.
Once he did create the product and sell it to the US retail giant, the product was a total flop.
Mowbray said he and his siblings spent many years making no money.
“I think entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t so you can live the rest of your life like most people can’t,” Mowbray said.
There were six other entrepreneurs who competed for the award including founder of skincare brand Antipodes Elizabeth Barbalich and technology company Straker Translations founders Grant and Merryn Straker.
Zuru makes all of its toys in China. It has no operations in New Zealand.
Its toy brands include Bunch O Balloons, Robo Alive, Smashers and Finding Dory.
In the US Zuru toys are sold in stores from Walmart to Toys R Us, and New Zealanders can buy them at the Warehouse.
Earlier this year, Mowbray said the fall of Toys R Us in the US would leave “a big hole” in Zuru’s books.
Mowbray said the company sold almost $27 million worth of its toys in Toys R Us stores in the United States, Canada, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia last year.
It expected to grow those sales by up to 40 per cent this year, he said.
“The industry is going to be shaken up for a little bit and we are going to have to work out what to do to fill the hole.”
Judging panel chairman Bill Day said Mowbray had a great story to tell, struggling to reach the top.
“He suffered at the start. He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth,” Day said.
“But he has such a great breadth of vision and fabulous execution. And he can look at macro changes in the world and see where their expertise, social media marketing and automation can be leveraged to disrupt existing businesses.”
Day said the skew this year, in choosing the finalists, had been towards young, tech, ethnic and female entrepreneurs.
“This says a lot about the changing face of New Zealand business.”