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Angels fly south to support Southern innovation

Angels fly south to support Southern innovation

MEPO reaps first reward

Mepo, an innovative platform designed to help teachers and students collaborate, developed by 18 year old, self-taught web designer and developer Josh Harrington, took home $1,000 cash and the support and encouragement of New Zealand’s angel sector in the Invercargill Startup Pitch Competition.

Angels are businesspeople who invest their money and often their time in early-stage and startup companies in order to help them grow and become the next generation of employers and innovators.

The pitch competition was organised to sit between Invercargill’s Startup Weekend, where groups come together to conceive an idea, test the concept and develop a prototype to demonstrate before a group of judges in just 54 hours, and Startup Week, where 40 to 60 post graduate students from the Southern Institute of Technology’s (SIT) business programme attempt to build ideas into businesses in a week. Both are organised and run by Innovate Invercargill, a private enterprise, designed to encourage entrepreneurship in Southland.

Marcel van den Assum, chair of the Angel Association of New Zealand (AANZ), an angel investor and board member of several startup companies, was a judge for this year’s Startup Weekend and a speaker, mentor and judge at the following pitch competition. He presented AANZ’s cheque to Josh Harrington and his team and says he was very impressed by the level of innovation, entrepreneurship and enthusiasm for all thing startup in Invercargill.

“It’s heartening to see the work that’s going on to create a thriving startup ecosystem in Southland. Innovate Invercargill should be congratulated for making this happen. I was impressed by many of the Startup Weekend ideas and by Josh and his team’s pitch for funds for Mepo. If they keep developing the platform the way they have been, perhaps they will be pitching for funds for real in the not too distant future.”

Josh Harrington formed Mepo at Invercargill’s inaugural Startup Weekend in August last year. XingDong Yan, co-founder of Innovate Invercargill and chief executive of JCCA Chartered Accountants and Business Consultants, says it was fantastic to see Josh back this year at the pitch competition. “Josh is truly an inspiration. Through Mepo he is determined to build a better online learning management system for students. It is a great achievement to have taken an idea borne from last year’s Startup Weekend and developed it to such a degree that it was able to win this year’s pitch competition.”

Josh was also part of this year’s winning Startup Weekend team for Stockclock, an intuitive app developed by Diego Brandao, which notifies manual stock traders when to sell their stocks.

Josh says both weekends and the pitch competition have been incredible learning experiences. “I’ve met some amazing people and the mentors have helped me understand what goes into pitches and what investors look for in a startup. The first Startup Weekend also helped me get a different point of view on my idea and gave me the opportunity to meet my two partners in Mepo, Nik (Bielski) and Neil (Riley) who have been working with me ever since.”

Winning the pitch award was particularly special because it validates all the hard work the team have put into Mepo since developing the concept last year, says Josh.

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“Entrepreneurs often lose motivation, which I know from my own experience, so it’s important to seek and receive feedback, especially from Angel investors such as Marcel who probably get contacted by startups on a daily basis. It’s that positive feedback or even just a different point of view that pushes an entrepreneur to go the extra mile; to keep their inner fire burning.”

Josh says he’ll be putting the prize money towards server costs, branding and trialling Mepo through New Zealand.

Southland’s startup ecosystem is really beginning to take shape says XingDong. “There are lots of elements involved in building an ecosystem to support a thriving startup community. Part of this is building relationships with organisations like the Angel Association and growing our own local network of angels to support these startups when they wish to take that next step. Collaboration is key.”

Another working to help Southland’s budding entrepreneurial ecosystem thrive and create a local network of Angel investors is Sean Woodward, a partner with Preston Russell Law, who says the local Chamber of Commerce and Employers Association have established a joint venture with SIT to investigate and establish an innovation support centre for local business in Southland.

“As part of that access to investment needs to be improved. So the Chamber is aiming to work with other enterprises, like Innovate Invercargill and the AANZ, to develop a formal angel network over the next six to 12 months.”

Woodward says the support and enthusiasm AANZ has shown towards Southland’s startup sector is instrumental in helping to grow the region’s innovation community.


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