Jenny Morel
5 min readAug 20, 2019


MORGO Bay of Islands — exhausted and exhilarated!

What an amazing group of entrepreneurs! And the key theme that emerged: CULTURE. Now that the companies are getting better funded, they’re hiring fast and the key to building a good team was repeated over and over again: be clear about your values and the culture you’re building — good people want to work with good people.

Blockchain for the diamond industry

Leanne Kemp got us off to a great start with her rapid history of technology through to the current day and her story of building Everledger — blockchain for the diamond industry. Fascinating to hear how each diamond can be classified uniquely and assigned a number to put into the blockchain. How did she wrangle all the parties in the diamond industry together to use Everledger for traceability? How did she come to be talking at the WEF on this, and where is she going next with her interest in sustainability and the circular economy? Lucky for us, Leanne is currently the Queensland Chief Entrepreneur and she’s going to join us again at MORGO Byron Bay at the end of November.

An AI coach for frontline staff

Joshua Feast talked about building Cogito Corporation in Boston — teaching us about scalability and executing extremely well. Joshua is building a big SaaS company providing an AI coach for frontline staff for companies that have at least 10,000 frontline staff. These are BIG customers! And he showed the advantages of being in the US: early research with DARPA, venture mentors from MIT, and multiple rounds of venture capital.

Kiwi companies — insurance, user experience, VR

Then we were into the kiwi companies: Ian Pollard building a new style insurance company from New Zealand — he plans to be in 10 countries within 10 years. Andrew Mayfield of Optimal Workshop — tools for improving your user experience — talked about SQUADIFYING his workforce. This is the one word I suspect we’re all taking away — building non-hierarchical squads that are then organised into tribes, who may get a chief! This resonated with the room: he provided the language for what some others are doing. And Aliesha Staples of StaplesVR. How did she go so fast from renting out high end gimbals and cameras to the film industry (and building cameras) to drones to games to a partnership with China Mobile in Chengdu!

Autonomous vehicles

Then, to take us into the future we had Dave Ferguson of Nuro is building autonomous delivery vehicles in San Francisco. They have raised over $1 billion to get their cute little delivery cars on the road. Currently in trials in Houston and Phoenix. This looks like a new arms race:

· US supermarkets are a $86 billion market sector. At the moment only 2% is delivered. Amazon has entered the market with its purchase of Wholefoods. Plenty of room for a few more competitors.

· 43% of car trips in the US are for shopping or errands such as picking up the drycleaning. Each year the equivalent of 600,000 lifetimes is spent on these! What will we do with all the spare time once Nuro is taking care of this for us?

And we had our New Zealand home-made rather more modest version of Nuro there: Ohmio. Mahmood Hikmet has built on his family’s business, HMI, which makes intelligent road signs — how many minutes to the airport, congestion ahead etc — and has started an autonomous vehicle company, Ohmio (HMI with wheels), which is building shuttle buses to use in campus settings. The first one is at Christchurch Airport. Mahmood said they didn’t like what they could buy from offshore so they built their own! And when they found the chassis was going to be expensive, they simply 3D printed the largest vehicle ever.

Using the slag from steel mills

Then Sean Molloy of Avertana. How amazing is this? Taking slag from steel mills and refining it into valuable components: titanium dioxide, alum, Epsom salts, gypsum. Now we’re talking circular economy!

Supporting Car-T cell trials in NZ

And to round out the day, David Downs shared his journey with “a mild touch of the cancer”, from being told his lyphoma was incurable, to someone from the US who liked his blog posts finding him a clinical trial in Boston which CURED him! What a story. And it helps that as well as having a senior role at NZTE and being a long time Morgo friend, David is a comedian. What a great presentation. When David came back to NZ, he was surprised to learn that the Malaghan Institute in Wellington has a Car-T cell therapy developed in the laboratory that is a generation ahead of the one he had in Boston, but they don’t have the funds to put it into a clinical trial. David is now devoting much of his time to raising $1 million for this. Morgo is supporting #downwithcancer and would love you to do so too.

Robotics for agriculture

Day 2 at MORGO Bay of Islands was kicked off by Steve Saunders telling us about Robotics Plus. Starting from the problem of not enough people wanting to work picking fruit and in agriculture in general, Steve sponsored his co-founder to do a PhD in mechatronics and then they started building robots for agriculture. They now have fruit packing and fruit picking robots and a strong partnership with Yamaha Motors, who manufacture the robots. Fantastic to see this coming from Tauranga.

And more kiwi companies

Mike Carden has been involved in 4 SaaS companies. He had us laughing with tales of his marketing experiences over the companies he’s been involved with. The memorable line: “Is FaceBook the Phillip Morris of the tech sector?” Now he’s focussed on building great product to market itself. Andy Stevens told us how he’d learned from failures he’d worked for in the past in setting up Coherent Solutions, which tests the optical equipment that drives modern communications. And he shared the scary fact that New Zealand is linked to the world only by the Southern Cross cable which consists of 16 fibres each as fine as a hair.

Cyber security, digital humans, and the anti-agency agency

Then for some brain stretch: Prof Giovanni Russello took us into the world of cloud cyber security and in particular the use of SGX to create safe enclaves to execute in. Think he and Andy Prow of Red Shield Security could have kept that conversation going for a long time, but it was time to move on to Danny Tomsett of FaceMe — digital humans. Danny shared the story of building his business, and the brave decision to go all in on the digital humans to emotionally engage you.

And finally to Todd Welling of Overdose Digital. New Zealand’s best kept secret? From Russell, a town of 500 people, Todd has built a digital commerce acceleration business of 140 people around the world — 30 of them in the Ukraine. Love it! And what does he mean about suffering a case of impostor syndrome at MORGO? People doing their own thing like this are the pulsing heart of entrepreneurship and MORGO.



Jenny Morel

In the Morgo Podcast, Jenny interviews people building Australian & NZ tech companies into the world, & runs Morgo events for these CEOs. Previously a VC..