Language learning game wins inaugural Startup Weekend


A game that was developed to help people learn Mandarin has taken out top honours at the inaugural Startup Weekend in Melbourne.


The Native Tongue team, which included six core members randomly put together for the competition, came up with the winning idea in the fast-paced competition, which demands that teams produce a complete business idea in just 54 hours.


The game, called Mandarin Madness, helps English speakers learn the language by challenging them to match characters with the visual representation of their meaning.


Native Tongue took out $8,000 in prizes after being voted number one out of 10 teams by a panel of venture capitalists, including web development, business consulting and office hosting, provided by sponsors including Microsoft and Sensis.


Startup Weekend works by pitting teams against each other over a 54-hour period to come up with the best business idea, plan and route to market, before making a five-minute pitch to a panel of judges.


Previously held in locations across the world, the Melbourne version of the event, organised by Olga Titarenko, marks the first time that it has been held in Australia.


Matthew Ho, who led the Native Tongue team, says that he came up with the idea for Mandarin Madness through his own struggles to learn the language.

“I’ve been learning the language off and on since the age of 12, so the game was born out my frustration with that,” he says.


“A lot of the teams had Powerpoint presentations, but we built a website and also showed the market potential of the game. There are three million people a day who get on planes, so there’s a big target market of travellers, as well as students.”


“Angry Birds has had 100 million downloads, which shows there are compelling numbers in gaming. But you need to have a niche. Ours will be in language-based gaming.”


“I thought the Startup Weekend event was awesome. I came interstate from Sydney to see what the competition was like and I was very impressed.”


Ho says that he has resigned from his job at digital agency Next Digital to devote more time to developing the game. He is also the first Australian-based employee of AirBNB, a US travel website set to launch here.


It’s anticipated that Mandarin Madness will launch within two months on the iPhone, to be followed by other language apps.