Kiwi 'Facebook for kids' gets $800,000

BY CLAIRE MCENTEE
Last updated 09:13 08/02/2010

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A Kiwi online social network for kids with a green theme has scored $800,000 to fund its launch in the United States.

The company's investors include angel investor Phil McCaw - one of the first investors in Trade Me - who will chair the company. Another is the $40-million Seed Co- Investment Fund, which is part of the Government's New Zealand Venture Investment Fund.

MiniMonos lets members create monkey avatars and explore a virtual island where they can meet and chat with other players, says founder Melissa Clark-Reynolds.

Members can try their hand at "green" games. "There's a recycling game with a twist - you have to sort the trash and catapult it into the rubbish - or you can clean up a coral reef and be rewarded with all kinds of cool fish."

The start-up network has just over 1000 members - mostly boys aged 10 to 12 in the US.

MiniMonos will use the $800,000 in capital - $550,000 from investment consortium Venture Accelerator Nelson and $250,000 from the Seed Co-Investment Fund - to boost its social marketing efforts in the US for its official launch there in April.

The company is developing communities of children and "green- minded" mothers in the US through Twitter, blogs and Facebook, and will also use the capital to develop more games and functionality for the site, she says.

"At the moment, members can 'friend' other kids but we want them to be able to create groups, and tribes so they can get together and challenge other groups of kids to activities and games."

The network is currently free to use, but from April members will be able to pay a monthly subscription of $3.50 to access premium content and functionality, such as the ability to form and be in a tribe.

MiniMonos has so far spent $500,000 developing the website and is seeking at least $1 million from New Zealand and overseas investors "to get us to the point where we can be self-sustaining", Ms Clark-Reynolds says.

It hopes to eventually sign up one million members, which would be achievable over the next few years, she says.

"Children today are digital natives. They want to use the internet like we do and they Twitter and blog. We wanted to make sure there was somewhere safe for them to do that and that it had a good values base and was not about killing stuff or buying stuff."

Children over 13 can go on Facebook, but those under 12 do not belong there. "In the US they take that quite seriously and we're really trying to fill a gap there. We've built something more like a Facebook for kids."

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- The Dominion Post

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