Emma Fryer with the ‘EmGuard’ – a biodegradable plant guard which is proving to be successful around New Zealand. Photo: Kate Russell.

Young entrepreneur creates biodegradable plant guard

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Every few weeks we sit down with someone with a story to tell at Burger Culture. This week we meet 20-year-old Nelson entrepreneur Emma Fryer, who is the brains behind her family business ‘EmGuard’ – which makes environmentally friendly bio-degradable plant guards as an alternative to plastic ones. She tells us how she came up with the idea at the age of just 15 and her family’s reaction to winning the ‘Clever Business Award’ at this year’s Chamber of Commerce Business Awards.

“It all started five years ago when I was out working on a job with my dad. My parents own a conservation and ecology business and we were doing some planting – restoring a wetland next to a creek. We were putting up these plastic guards and I was like ‘we’ve just spent all this time trying to restore this area, why are we putting plastic in?’ and dad said ‘well, there’s actually nothing else on the market, so why don’t you have a look and see what you can do’.

“So, I spent the following two years investigating the idea through the Young Enterprise Scheme with my business studies group at Nelson College for Girls. We didn’t get very far, because no one had done it and I did struggle being a young high school student. Then it was my mum who found a product called Ram Board which is used for protecting flooring on building sites. We thought it would be perfect, so I sat down and cut out 34 with my craft knife and installed them up the Maitai.

“They did well, but when we investigated the cost it was ridiculously expensive and not viable. Dad got on the internet and searched for similar products and we found a packaging company who import a type of specialised board – which is like a laminated cardboard with four layers and a water resistant like wax on it. We were sent a sample and it took off from there. We did our first trial. We had to get 5000 to start off with – which is a lot.

“We took the risk and we’re so glad we did. In that first year we only developed them for us to use, but people were so interested in them and we ended up getting big orders before we even completed our first trial year. Now we sell them from Kaitaia to Bluff and we’ve just started exporting to Australia. People love using them because they’re so simple to use.

“They are easy to move, reasonably light, use a single stake and are flat pack. We guarantee they’ll last a year, but it’s dependent on where you put them. They’ll breakdown quicker in a boggy area, but we’ve seen them last two or three years.

“It was very exciting to win the Clever Business Award. It was five years in the making and it’s surreal to have the idea grow into what it is now. People have said ‘that’s so simple, why didn’t I think of that’? Sometimes I don’t think people realise the work that has gone into it, and how much we did behind the scenes.

“It’s a family story – no one person was a bigger part. I’m now doing my Bachelor of Commerce at NMIT and working full time for the company and enjoy doing all the marketing and trade shows. I definitely see myself gaining some experience elsewhere in the next few years, but it’s something that I’m always going to be passionate about.”