Media Release, 21 August 2015

Two businesses from New South Wales, both started in 2011 by individuals who took innovative approaches to market opportunities, have taken out top honours at the 2015 Telstra Australian Business Awards.

Ice tea beverage manufacturer Nexba, whose mission is to create better-for-you drinks, was named the national winner of the Micro Business Award, while Murrumbidgee-based cotton processor Southern Cotton won the national Regional Award.

Other Awards winners were WA risk management consultancy Executive Risk Solutions, which was named Telstra Australian Business of the Year, and industrial electrical specialists Furst Electrical and corporate uniform manufacturers Cargo Crew, both from Victoria.

Nexba, founded by two young Sydney entrepreneurs Drew Bilbe and Troy Douglas, aims to engage the next generation to make healthier decisions. Recognising that consumers want less sugar and are constantly searching for healthier alternatives, natural ingredients are at the core of Nexba’s drinks range.

Nexba is 100 per cent Australian owned and manufactured and in December 2014 launched nationally into Coles supermarkets. It has sold more than three million cans. Nexba has plans for expansion into other beverage types, including natural sparkling water.

Mr Douglas said much of their success is due to strong mentors.

“Our strategy has always been to surround ourselves with experts to help us grow and hit our targets. We constantly turn to our collective of mentors to advise and guide our decisions to keep Nexba at the top of its game. We might be young, but we like to surprise people!”

Fellow NSW business Southern Cotton was also founded in 2011 when a greenfield site in Whitton was transformed into a $26 million gin that processed 166,234 bales in its first year. Tired of carting their cotton on an 800 kilometre roundtrip to get ginned, six Murrumbidgee famers pooled their resources to build their own gin.

Southern Cotton’s General Manager Kate O’Callaghan says the business, now ranked one of the best gins in Australia, deploys the best-in-class technology, from paddock to the finished bale, to give growers the finest returns.

“Southern Cotton is an industry leader because of our management systems and processes. It’s our dedication to doing the best job for our growers that drives us to be better at what we do at the gin every day,” she said.

Will Irving, Telstra Business Group Managing Director and Telstra Business Awards Ambassador, said: “The 2015 national winners are run by inspiring and resilient individuals who have taken great personal risk to start their businesses. They are celebrated for having excelled in their innovation, sector leadership and growth and all have amazing potential.”

“The Telstra judges were impressed that Nexba took on one of the toughest areas in ‘consumerable products’ by focussing in on the beverage industry, and has achieved distribution in major retailers, despite being up against well-established brands.

“They described Nexba co-founders Drew and Troy as great role models for young entrepreneurs commenting their passion for sustainability – all of Nexba’s packaging is fully recyclable – made this business stand out.

“The judges were equally impressed with Southern Cotton saying it has shifted the agricultural focus in their region and is providing new and profitable opportunities for local growers. If you were building a business from scratch they are 10 out of 10; there is no compromise in their level of detail, innovation and perfection.

"The judges praised Southern Cotton for its strong management processes and use of systemised app technology to help growers track cotton from paddock to buyer. They process 190,000 bales a year which puts them on a world scale as a single producer," Mr Irving said.

The Telstra Australian Business Awards were attended by Federal Small Business Minister Bruce Billson, Telstra CEO Andrew Penn, Telstra CFO Warwick Bray, senior Telstra executives and Awards Alumni including Anthony Kittel of 2014 Telstra Business of the Year, REDARC.

The winners of the 2015 Telstra Australian Business Awards are:   
Start-up Award
Furst Electrical
Bayswater VIC

In 2012 Melbourne siblings Mark and Lee Furst created Furst Electrical, a specialist contractor in industrial electrical services for manufacturers and secondary processing businesses. The company designs, fabricates and installs electrical control systems to increase the competitiveness of Australian industry through automation and innovation. With 11 staff, they have won major contracts with multinational clients. National judges praised the financials that the business had achieved, as well as the high level of innovation the pair brought to highly complex electrical engineering niches.
Micro Business Award
Nexba Sydney NSW

Small Business Award
Cargo Crew
Brunswick East VIC

In 2002, Felicity Rodgers used her design experience to offer fashionable uniforms that would withstand the rigours of a busy workplace and that staff would be proud to wear. Her sister Narelle Craig and husband Paul Rodgers later joined the growing business, bringing advertising and operational management expertise. Cargo Crew’s uniforms are supplied to major clients such as Dulux and Renault. The Telstra judges said the business has redefined the modern uniform and they praised the company’s growth potential as it expands into the casual professional category.

Medium Business Award
Executive Risk Solutions
Myaree WA

After leaving Afghanistan’s battlefields, former SAS trooper Scott Houston applied his military experience to risk management venture Executive Risk Solutions (ERS). ERS provides crisis management, emergency response and specialist security to companies in high risk sectors and employs more than 100 staff. Praising its resilience and diversity, the Telstra judges said the business rode the mining boom as it started but has since focused on opportunities for growth and investment in new areas.

Regional Award
Southern Cotton
Whitton NSW

Telstra Australian Business of the Year
Executive Risk Solutions
Myaree WA

For more information about the Awards or to nominate for the 2016 Telstra Australian Business Awards, visit or call 1800AWARDS between 9am and 7pm AEST Monday to Friday. The Awards were established in 1992 to celebrated brilliant Australian small and medium businesses.