A New Zealand entrepreneur has chosen Cambridge as a literal ‘Springboard’ to raise £5m in new capital and go global with a children’s game that teaches youngsters good environmental practices.
MiniMonos is the first company to emerge from the inaugural Springboard Cambridge programme, which is running for 13 weeks at ideaSpace.
Kiwi founder and CEO Melissa Clark-Reynolds – one of Al Gore’s ‘Inconvenient Truth’ ambassadors – has already raised £1.2m for the ‘green’ games business, which carries huge spin-off benefits in social and environmental responsibility such as helping to save endangered animals and funding drinking water in the Third World.
MiniMonos is Spanish for little monkeys and Clark-Reynolds thinks that with swiftly raised capital and new target markets it could become a gorilla in the global gaming industry.
Her daughter arrived on the scene 18 years after her son, and Clark-Reynolds realised that much of TV and video entertainment that was around when her daughter had reached the age of six was hopelessly outdated and not entirely suitable.
So she masterminded MiniMonos – a virtual world for children “who love to play and love the planet.” They create monkeys and it is their job to then cherish and nourish the environment in which the creatures live.
Launched in her native New Zealand, the company saw the opportunity to bid for a place on the Springboard Cambridge programme and was one of 10 companies from more than 230 global applicants that made the cut.
Her family has now moved to Cambridge and she is using the programme as a platform to bid for expansion capital.
I met her when I gave a round table on the Cambridge tech cluster to Springboard team members last night where she and programme director Jon Bradford agreed MiniMonos was ready to hit the business jungle and go bananas.
Clark-Reynolds told me: “We have a fantastic and unique proposition – a game that kids love playing and that also teaches them good environmental and eco-friendly habits; how to love the planet.
“We’re ready for some rocket fuel to make it big in the UK and also to target the US – including Latin America – and all the Spanish-speaking countries. It’s time we welcomed children from around the world to create monkeys and play on MiniMonos.”
Clark-Reynolds would welcome the opportunity to talk to Cambridge or London-based angels or games-friendly entrepreneurs. She is also prepared to consider a joint venture approach with – or offer a stake to – one of the games industry megastars in Cambridge; a Jagex, Ninja Theory or Frontier Developments for example.
Clark-Reynolds, who has 20 years experience as an entrepreneur, was one of the first two New Zealanders to be trained by Al Gore to present The Inconvenient Truth slideshow. Her pioneering work in the New Zealand environmental movement paved the way for more Kiwi presenters to be trained in 2009.
With MiniMonos, she has combined her entrepreneurial bent, love of technology and environmental activism. Sustainability isn't taught on MiniMonos; it's normalised. Youngsters quickly realise that if they don't clean the virtual lagoon, the fish don't come back: If they don't do their recycling, their treehouses get messy.
She said: “At MiniMonos, we do everything possible to reinforce the need to take real-world action. We turn off the servers for Earth Hour, and every new membership provides clean drinking water for children in India. We've partnered with WWF-NZ in support of the global WWF Tiger Initiative and have adopted four orangutans through Orangutan Outreach. And the MiniMonos EcoMonkey Program provides kids with in-world rewards for real-world eco-actions.”
Her chief technical officer is Greg Montgomery, a titan of information technology with 15 years of experience, including the development and implementation of SafeTsmart, a health and safety product, into the Australian market. He is committed to shaping a better future for the planet, through helping kids to discover the impact of their and their parents' choices.
Chief marketing officer Kaila Colbin, who is also representing MiniMonos at Springboard Cambridge, is a communications crusader with a focus on conversational marketing and global social networking. As a New Yorker living in New Zealand, she understands the need for environmental literacy in big cities as well as rural areas, and is passionate about creating a world in which a healthy environment coexists with a strong economy.