MORGO Queenstown: Resilience, Leadership, Opportunity

Jenny Morel, Sep 2020

The founder-CEOs of listed companies Volpara Health Technologies, Vista Group and Straker Translations were all back at MORGO this year. And young companies such as the winners of the sponsored places competition: Bex Rempel of Voltaic Electric Jets, Rommie Nunes of Blue Mirror and Kurt Janssen of Orbica. And a fantastic variety of all kinds of businesses. Be great to see how they grow.

At the MORGO retreat we bring together these high growth business leaders to give them an annual re-charge — send them away with new energy to take on the challenges of building their businesses out into the world. These are tough and often lonely journeys — it’s the lucky entrepreneur who has a trusted co-founder, supportive investor, or a good board. At MORGO we bring them together to support, and learn from, each other. They are the business leaders of tomorrow and we want to help them succeed.

Resilience & Leadership

Entrepreneurs have to respond to challenges all the time, and resilience is an essential quality. There are tough stories out there. They don’t come tougher than Magic Memories’ Covid story: from 2,000 staff to 15, from $170M revenue to 0. When I talked to John Wikstrom, founder & CEO of Magic Memories a few weeks ago, he said, “It’s all about leadership.”

Thus cementing in our Morgo theme for this year!

After raising money fast, he has started re-hiring, and begun to build back to where they were before Covid hit.

Challenges come in many forms. Our second speaker, Ben O’Brien of Stretchsense, told us the harrowing story of having to start again after a major international partnership fell through, sharing a personal journey of coping with stress and endless creativity.

Dale Clareburt of Weirdly (smart recruitment screening) shared with us “that week in August” when the orders arrived just in time to keep everyone on!

Later there was the 20-year story of Brian Ward building Aroa Biosurgery, which recently listed on the ASX and is trading at a valuation of over NZ$400M. From a great idea and trials of his soft tissue regeneration scaffold in the kitchen to FDA-approved products in multiple markets, it wasn’t all plain sailing.

These are tough journeys are only possible with the support of employees, investors, partners. That’s where leadership shows up as so essential: providing a vision and a belief, sharing the load, and always finding a way forward no matter how tough the terrain.

Brain stretch

We always have some science at MORGO to stretch our thinking and also it’s mental time out — I can guarantee that if you’re trying to follow a talk on quantum computing you’re not worrying about the personnel issues in your company. This year we had a section of the programme on AI and one on the future of health. And Delwyn Moller, a NASA scientist who has come to live in Wanaka, told us about the sensors she has designed for collecting environmental data from AirNZ planes (Air New Zealand joins NASA climate science mission).

AI

For the AI section, we had Howie Xu, VP AI & Machine Learning at ZScaler and a good MORGO friend, join us by Zoom to share a Silicon Valley perspective. Michael Witbrock from the University of Auckland challenged us to do “real AI” in New Zealand. Asa Cox talked about building his company, Arcanum, and about their cool new project Play in the Grey — an AI-Powered sports analytics platform that enables your team to gain a competitive advantage and win more games! Finally, to round out this section we had David Inggs of Rocos, robotic controllers, talk about the use of AI in robotics. And to demonstrate he brought along Spot, the robotic sheepdog:

The Future of Health

Louise Schaper of Digital Health Australasia gave us a great overview of the evolution from Health IT to Digital Health, what’s happening and what’s holding us back. Gabe Rijpma of Aceso smashed a jug to show us the shards of a health system that need to be stuck together better — like the Japanese art of Kintsugi. Cather Simpson of Engender Technologies talked about pivoting a company that was using photonics to measure progesterone in cows milk to measuring Covid antibodies. Simon Malpas of University of Auckland talked about implantable devices for remote monitoring. And after workshops with these speakers, Pete Hodgson, Chairman of Callaghan Innovation (and a past Health Minister) gave us a wonderful summing up.

Business heroes

All the speakers have built successful businesses, whether large or small. They demonstrated how you keep learning along the way. Hadleigh Bognuda has compound growth of 63% a year at EzyVet, a veterinary clinic practice management system. How does he do it? By listening closely to his customers. And relentless drive. (Check out his Morgo Podcast.) Richard Conway of Pure SEO talked about the joy of building any business, a love of business itself. And Tim Allan talked about the amazing design story behind UBCO bikes.

Finally, a panel of Growth by Acquisition with Murray Holdaway of Vista Group, Ralph Highnam of Volpara and Grant & Merryn Straker of Straker Translations — all using the power of being listed to make acquisitions around the world. After Grant explained how he makes the acquisitions and then (with a perfectly executed pass) gives them to Merryn to make them work, I thought everyone would be trying to poach Merryn!

The Morgo Game

With the help of the Morgo Community, we’ve been developing the Morgo Game — teams answering challenge questions drawn from our collective experience. Plenty of heated debate, incredulous comments of “Really?”, and lots of fun. Now planning to keep developing it to run as a new Morgo Community activity.

And they’re off!

The goal of MORGO is to give a re-charge to the hard-charging entrepreneurs who are building our businesses of the future out into the world. Building these businesses is always full of challenges, and Covid has been a particularly tough one for many. But they’re up and running! Many of them are hiring again. And we’ve fulfilled our goals of helping them help each other and having a new burst of energy in New Zealand’s growth businesses!

A Morgo Bouquet for Brian Ward for his 20 year journey taking Aroa Biosurgery from his kitchen bench to a successful ASX listing
Checking out the UBCO bikes after MORGO

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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..