26 July 2013
A national pet treats wholesaler based at Maroochydore was last night named the $20,000 winner of the Innovation Centre Sunshine Coast’s Business Pitch Competition 2013.
Owner Russell Gibbons impressed the ‘Dragon’s Den’ style judging panel with a pitch about his new company Huds and Toke, which manufactures high-quality, Australian-made treats for horses and dogs.
He beat eight finalists during the intense competition at the University of the Sunshine Coast’s Innovation Centre.
In second place were Pauline O’Sullivan and Michelle Kazukaitis of Victus Health, an online cloud-based solution for nutritional management, and third was Gregory Wallace of e-learning start-up firm WP Online Learning.
Mr Gibbons, who has lived on the Coast for 12 years and already runs wholesaling firm Active Pet Products with his wife Emma and four staff, said the prize would be a wonderful boost.
The package includes cash, access to shared Innovation Centre office space, business development services and consultations on legal issues, capital raising, commercialisation and marketing.
“Huds and Toke is already trading in the market as a start-up but this prize will help take us to the next level of volume-based business,” Mr Gibbons said.
“We had identified an opportunity in the equine industry for an all-natural, chemical-free, training treat for horses so we created and branded it at our Maroochydore head office and manufacture it in Australia from Australian produce.
“The win also validates our idea; the quirkiness and innovation of the product.”
Innovation Centre CEO Mark Paddenburg said Mr Gibbons’ passion, comprehensive planning and strong branding stood out.
“It might surprise some people that this year’s winner is a manufacturer of treats for horses,” Mr Paddenburg said, given the prevalence of technology-based firms in the competition.
“But what emerged is that Huds and Toke has a great product, strong niche market potential, and a thorough business model that will enable it to succeed in a global market. In Australia alone the equine market is valued at $6 billion.”
Judges, including Keith Steele of major sponsor Commercialisation Australia, said the high quality of all pitches demonstrated the wide range of emerging but sophisticated businesses on the Sunshine Coast.
Mr Gibbons said the entire event was inspirational as a diverse group of local business people took the opportunity to network and share their knowledge.
Mr Paddenburg confirmed the competition would return in 2014.
— Julie Schomberg