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University student leads team to Startup Weekend Sydney win

Tuesday, 8 May 2012 | By Michelle Hammond

A University of Adelaide student led a team of eight at Startup Weekend Sydney to take out the top prize, receiving $5,000 for her idea of an online fitness centre reservation service.


Vanessa Picker, who is in her last year at the University of Adelaide, where she is studying a degree in innovation and entrepreneurship, is the brains behind FitUsIn.


Picker describes FitUsIn as an online fitness centre reservation service, which, in a nutshell, enables prospective gym-goers to sign up to gyms online, rather than having to sign up in person.


“It’s something I’ve been personally working on a little while before the competition,” she says.


“I spent a bit of time working in the fitness industry, so I observed the problem firsthand… For an individual user, FitUsIn essentially simplifies the entire process of signing up to a gym.”


“Everything can be done online using a search engine and online payment system.”


Picker travelled from Adelaide to attend Startup Weekend Sydney, which was held from Friday, April 27 to Sunday, April 29 at co-working network Fishburners.


After pitching her idea on the first night, a team of eight was formed around Picker’s idea.


“Ours was one of the biggest teams. This can cause problems, but we were such a diverse team that we made it work,” she says.


“We had a commission sale – [one gym] was prepared to lower their prices by 25% and allow 10% commission [for FitUsIn], which proved our revenue model would work.”


FitUsIn was then charged with the task of wrapping it all up in a final pitch on Sunday.


“That was one of the challenges – to bring it all together,” Picker says.


“The problem we were trying to solve is relatively simple so a lot of people can relate to it immediately. We didn’t have to spend too much time explaining the problem.”


“We could spend a lot of time explaining all the validation we’d done and doing a demo of the website.”


After being named the winner of Startup Weekend Sydney, Picker says she intends to test the market in Adelaide, but is looking at Sydney as a more viable market in which to operate.


“Sydney is the perfect place to launch it… Sydney is such a cutthroat place for gyms – they’re struggling to differentiate themselves,” she says.


“From there, given the success of similar models, there should be room to grow quickly interstate and beyond that as well.”


Picker says she will probably look at relocating to Sydney once she completes her degree.


She also has plans to downsize the FitUsIn team, saying there simply aren’t enough funds to keep on all eight members in formal roles, although it’s unsure what the new team will look like.


Her advice to other entrepreneurs considering attending a Startup Weekend is to go in with an open mind, regardless of how much they have already developed their idea.


“Be prepared to shift and pivot and listen to everyone that’s there… It’s amazing how much you can learn from all the mentors,” she says.