Hotel chief James Spence wins Entrepreneur of the Year title as cubby house brainwave helps Adelaide firm win green business title

A Perth-based entrepreneur who dropped out of university to manage rock bands before building an international hotel business was been named Australia’s Entrepreneur of the Year in accounting firm Ernst & Young’s annual awards.

John Spence, head of the Karma Royal Group, received the award at a ceremony in Sydney last night. Karma Royal has 15 resorts across Asia-Pacific, including sites in Margaret River in Western Australia, the Philippines, Indonesia and India.

The award for young entrepreneur of the year was taken out by another Perth businessman, Zhenya Tsvetnenko from the Zhenya Group of Companies. The rapidly-growing company is one of Australia’s biggest providers of premium SMS services, and Zhenya has become known as one of WA’s most flamboyant young entrepreneurs.

The clean tech award was won by Richard Turner of Adelaide-based Zen Home Energy Systems.

Turner, a serial entrepreneur who has run four businesses, told SmartCompany that he came up with the idea for the business when he tried to get a solar light for his children’s cubby house.

“We wanted to put a light in the cubby house to extend the playtime. I thought I could by a simple system off the shelf but of course when I went down to the local solar hobby shop I was confronted by a myriad of products,” he says.

“I thought, I’m trying to power a cubby house – imagine what’s it’s like to power a whole house.”

Turner, who has a marketing background, researched the emerging solar industry – “It was a cottage industry at best” – and set about putting together complete home solar systems.

The company’s next move is to add a retail component to its full-service model. It has two stores in Adelaide, one in Albury and set to open a shop in Perth in the coming weeks. Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane are expected to be added by June 2011.

While the bulk of Zen’s work is around solar power, Turner sees the industry rapidly changing as new technology becomes available for home use. For example, ceramic fuel cells which covert natural gas into energy, and micro electricity grids that can be used to power a neighbourhood are not too far away.

“We see the wind farms being white elephants in a few years because people will be generating energy closer to home.”

However, Turner has one plea for governments around Australia – stop playing around the Australia’s green tech regulations, and adopt a national approach to policy making. He says inconsistent state and territory laws are constant hurdle for the sector.

“We would be absolute advocates for a national, consistent policy.”

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