Invercargill – Notes on Sauntering around the South Island Startup Ecosystem


I didn’t have Invercargill on the list of places to visit until “Noel Muskrat” called me out in the NZ Tech Startups Eco-System Group

“Come to Inver’s… where the sunshine is liquid and the locals can count to eleven”

Who can resist a pitch like that?

So off down the Devil’s Staircase alongside the southern leg of lake Wakatipu and into the pancake flat plains I went.

The weather was perfect, cartoon green fields and piercing blue skies. Until I passed between two highway signs announcing my arrival in Invercargill.

The liquid sunshine commenced immediately.

STEAM ENGINE Invercargill

First port of call was to meet the mysterious Noel and Leon Muskrat (anagrams of their heroes name Elon). They are putting together a maker space and prototyping service called the STEAM ENGINE Invercargill

The intention is to have a fully equipped maker space that people can hire out on a one off and subscription basis. They are also planning project based STEM classes for local children.

Both were overloading me with coding and technical details. I begged them to simplify their pitch and get out and talk to people. We all have a habit of loading everything including the kitchen sink into a pitch.

I really do hope these passionate guys get this up and running, you can find them via their Facebook group.

COIN South

The COIN South office is in the middle of downtown Invercargill, in the COIN Hub Coworking space with the tagline “When you’ve outgrown your kitchen table and the cat’s lacking any water-cooler chat.”

Late in the afternoon, unannounced I tapped on their door. Prue Halstead, Chief Starter and Louise Evans, Chief Activator were the ones I was seeking but both were elsewhere. Nikki Dermody their Chief Storyteller stepped up to the plate, to fill me full of Black Shag filter coffee and share some background on their operation.

COIN South has a solid list of corporate members and receives funding from their strategic partners including; Southland Chamber of Commerce, Community Trust South, Environment Southland Regional Council, The Southern Institute of Technology and Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu. They are governed by an elected Board or Directors and operated by Prue and her dedicated crew.

They provide numerous services from advisory support and business coaching to access to angel investors and networking with industry experts, corporates, governments and fellow startups.

Regular coffee checkins are a feature along with plenty of industry gossip.

The flow of information between Queenstown, Invercargill and Dunedin is surprisingly effective and that could be due in part to the Mainland Angel Investors.

Mainland Angel Investors (MAI)

While talking to Nikki, Anna Stevens came to join our conversation. She’s the Network Manager for the Mainland Angel Investors.

MAI is a network of angel investors across Otago and Southland that was launched by Scott Mason as an incorporated society and pushed forward by Prue Halstead from COIN South, David Wallace from Startup Queenstown Lakes and Sarah Ramsay of Startup Dunedin.

By joining forces, MAI investors get access to companies and ideas they might not have been aware of.

When I asked Anna about the risks of Angel Investing, her response was to point out that there needs to be a lot of education on angel investing, how it requires a “portfolio approach” and what kinds of returns can reasonably be expected.

She then went on to quip…

There’s many a local investor that will happily buy into horse racing syndicates with far riskier odds.

It’s all about education and attitude.

NZ Tech Startups Eco-System Group (Facebook Group)

Steam Engine Invercargill (Facebook Group)

COIN South

Community Trust South

Environment Southland Regional Council

The Southern Institute of Technology

Southland Chamber of Commerce

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu

Mainland Angel Investors (MAI)

Startup Queenstown Lakes

Startup Dunedin

Black Shag Coffee

Next up… Dunedin