A win for Australian innovation and Telstra – the verdict on Muru-D’s first round

Last week I attended the demo night for Muru-D‘s first round of start ups. Muru-D, in the words of Charlotte Yarkoni (President of Global Applications and Platforms at Telstra and Muru-D co-founder), represents Telstra’s plan to build a ‘healthy and robust innovation ecosystem across Australia’.

The demo night, attended by Telstra CEO David Thodey, startup mentors, angel investors, private equity, advisers and corporates was presented as a sort of ‘score check’ on how this vision of an ecosystem is shaping up in Muru-D’s first year. With 300 startup applications and only 9 chosen to enter the incubator, it was not surprising that the quality of the business concepts presented on the night was of a higher standard than you might get at a university equivalent. This was only matched by the maturity of the ideas with some already attracting large customers and deals to continue scale growth.

The 9 pitches shown on the night were all digital businesses attacking consumer, business and government needs across a range of problem statements including – providing better education, safety reporting, photo solutions for health and ecommerce and financing for small business. Regardless of the problem statement being solved, all the concepts were innovative, some were achieving scale and a few were already generating decent earnings.

The idea with the most disruptive potential was Momentum Cloud (education) a personalised learning platform which aims to build a stronger relationship between teachers, parents and students through an online forum. Parents can interact with their child’s teacher in setting goals and manage/monitor learning outcomes through a range of tools. Already established in 275 schools, Momentum Cloud has the potential to revolutionise the traditional learning environment.

Other ideas on the night were examples of sustaining innovation. Take Safesite, a digital site safety management platform. This platform allows worksite teams and safety managers to photograph and report safety incidents in a digital form. Equally, Farmbot is bringing farming to the ‘internet of things’ by adding sensors to parts of a farm (e.g Water tank, feed bin) which then provide data to farmers on usage, occupancy and the effect on the crop or livestock. Others, like Pixc or Vistr looked to improve a process and information for small business owners.

But there was more to the night than watching 9 impressive pitches from young (mostly) entrepreneurs. In the small auditorium in the back blocks of Sydney’s Surry Hills (and beamed live to Melbourne) a slice of the ‘innovation ecosystem’ of Australia was meeting. In the networking after I met people from large corporations looking for a business to bolt into their operations, venture capitalists and angels looking for a prospect, advisors looking for new ideas to talk to their clients about and students looking for inspiration. If this were Charlotte Yarkoni’s desired start to Muru-D it was a success.

Telstra stands to gain a lot from this venture. Whilst no doubt there are some costs involved (renovating an old exchange, capital for 9 start ups, etc.) at worst Telstra has been seen to be promoting innovation in Australia where there is a significant gap from either the public or private sector. The more likely outcome is that Telstra will end up with a stake in a number of successful businesses providing new revenue streams (from new business models) to offset a disrupted core (PSTN) business. This will come with the added bonus of changing the culture in its heavily engineering based business and promoting innovation in the Australian business community.

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