Startup team for e-learning platform

Young Invercargill entrepreneur Josh Harrington was still at school when he came up with the idea of an online learning management system.

Mr Harrington (18) has now left James Hargest College to concentrate on Mepo, a platform designed to help teachers and pupils collaborate, along with some other projects.

Mepo was just an idea until the self-taught web designer and developer attended Invercargill’s inaugural Startup Weekend in August last year.

That was where he met his two business partners, Neil Riley, who runs an e-learning company, and Nik Bielski, whose skills were in marketing.

Mr Harrington also won $1000 cash and the support of New Zealand’s angel sector for Mepo in the Invercargill Startup Pitch competition.

That competition was organised to sit between Startup Weekend, where groups came together to conceive an idea, test the concept and develop a prototype to demonstrate before a group of judges in 54 hours, and Startup Week, where 40 to 60 postgraduate students from the Southern Institute of Technology’s business programme attempt to build ideas into businesses in one week.

Both were organised and run by Innovate Invercargill, a private enterprise designed to encourage entrepreneurship in Southland.

Angel Association of New Zealand (AANZ) chairman Marcel van den Assum, who was a judge for the startup weekend and a speaker, mentor and judge at the following pitch competition, said it was heartening to see the work that was going on to create a ”thriving startup ecosystem” in Southland.

Mr Harrington believed Mepo had plenty of potential, particularly as e-learning was still not implemented in a lot of schools.

Prior to the Startup Weekend, he only had a general idea of what he wanted to do.

The event gave him different points of view on many things and taught him how to pitch to an investor or a school, he said.

There was now a community of startup and technology innovators in the region, he said.

Innovate Invercargill co-founder XingDong Yan said the region’s startup ecosystem was ”really beginning to take shape.

”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,” Mr Yan said.

Sean Woodward, a partner with Preston Russell Law, said the local Chamber of Commerce and Employers Association had established a joint venture with the Southern Institute of Technology to investigate and establish an innovation support centre in Southland.

As part of that, access to investment needed to be improved.

The chamber was 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, he said.