The near-Earth cosmic ray flux has been monitored for more than 70 years by a network of ground-based neutron monitors (NMs). With the ever-increasing importance of quantifying the radiation risk and effects of cosmic rays for, e.g., air and space-travel, it is essential to continue operating the existing NM stations, while expanding this crucial network. In this paper, we discuss a smaller and cost-effective version of the traditional NM, the mini-NM. These monitors can be deployed with ease, even to extremely remote locations, where they operate in a semi-autonomous fashion. We believe that the mini-NM, therefore, offers the opportunity to increase the sensitivity and expand the coverage of the existing NM network, making this network more suitable to near-real-time monitoring for space weather applications. In this paper, we present the technical details of the mini-NM's design and operation, and present a summary of the initial tests and science results.