I accidentally won a hackathon. Now I'm going to Startup Chile.

Let me begin at the beginning.

I work at an awesome organization dedicated to helping Ontario startups grow. My main job is to provide secondary market research to ICT startups. As a side project, a colleague and I were working with this cool group to bring Hacking Health to Toronto so I thought I would attend the June AT&T Mobile App Hackathon (that happened to be held in my building) to experience a hackathon for myself. 

I am competitive by nature and noted there was a special prize for using mHealth APIs. Since I am passionate about health startups I thought I would pitch a health idea. I also happened to be taking a voice class at the time and figured pitching in front of a large crowd would be good practice.

The idea

A few months ago my co-workers and I started doing a fitness challenge to counteract the 3pm afternoon blahs. We would pick a random exercise (pushups, planks, etc.) and see who could do the most in a given time frame. After our mini-workout we would get back to work, often with increased focus. We lasted about a week before trailing off, but we all agreed that it was fun and helped us stay productive through the afternoon.

So on the Friday night of the hackathon, as I was sitting in my cube brainstorming ideas to pitch, I happened to look left and see the piece of paper that we used to track how were doing.

My chicken scratch: The origins of Fit with Friends.

15 minutes later I had sketched out the beginnings of an app to track fitness for a group of friends, tentatively named 'Fit with Friends'.

The execution

At the hackathon I did my 1-minute pitch along with about 30 other people. During the networking after, a team began to form around me very quickly. Michael Anderson was excited by my idea and was the first to join. Then we needed developers.

Peter Newhook, who was my awesome mentor at a Ladies Learning Code workshop a few months before also joined the team. His friend Kevin Kelly arrived a few hours later to become our 3rd developer. In the meantime, Michael got Nick Manolakos interested as well. Our team was fully formed: 2 business-types + 3 technical-types.

We got to work right away, with Michael and I brainstorming the business side while the developers talked to the senseis to better understand the development platform, Tiggzi and the mHealth plugin.

I left that night at 11:30, tired but super excited and surprised that I actually had a team.

On Saturday the guys coded while Michael and I worked on the presentation. I was planning to head to the Radiohead concert so I left around 4 pm, knowing I would not be there for the final presentation. Of course, the concert got canceled (sad story) so I went back to the hackathon.

The pitch

Having worked with startups for the past few years I've seen well over a hundred pitches by now. But wow, nothing prepares you when you actually have to do it yourself! It was super fun and based on the dozen other presentations I felt like we had a good shot at the mHealth prize.

Fit with Friends team.

When they announced the winners I was stunned.

Best use of the Tiggzi platform: Fit with Friends

Best app using mHealth APIs: Fit with Friends

Best hackathon overall app: Fit with Friends

We swept the hackathon winning 3 prizes for what was initially a pretty random idea.


After I had a few weeks to reflect I decided to push this accident a little further.

Startup Chile is a program I've been following since its inception. Part of my work at MaRS is to understand what other jurisdictions are doing to stimulate hubs of innovation and entrepreneurship. Startup Chile is a bold policy experiment and from the moment I heard of it I wanted to be a part of it. The opportunity to build a startup while contributing to a build startup ecosystem was the perfect fit for me but I didn't really know how I would participate. Until now. 

As I was thinking about applying for the program I happened to meet Alison Gibbons from SIMPLIFY Analytics. If you are expecting, check out their first product, babySIMPLIFY. During our conversation the fact that I had recently won a hackathon came up and she blurted out, "you know you have to quit your job now!"

Turns out that's exactly what Alison did after coming in 2nd place with SIMPLIFY Analytics during last year's Toronto Startup Weekend. She also shared one interesting piece of information around starting a company if the idea begins from a bunch of people working on something together. What Alison did was start the business with everyone on her orignal Startup Weekend team and then as individual interest waned over the course of the year, she was left with one person who became her technical co-founder. 

Perfect. Armed with this knowledge I knew what to do next.

It was important to me to recognize each individual's contribution to Fit with Friends so I wrote to each of my team members explaining that I was planning to apply to Startup Chile and asked if they were interested in being involved. I offered the full range of engagement from just staying in the loop to joining the team.

I heard back from one person, Peter Newhook, who had pretty much led the development and killed the technical demo during our pitch. Needless to say I was super excited when he agreed to be part of my Startup Chile application. I know that having a team (rather than being a single founder) would make our application stronger, especially with our complimentary business and technical skills.

So I applied, scrambling to record a pitch video in the final hours before the submission deadline. When I saw that 1509 applications had been submitted I thought, oh well, the application itself was a good exercise in thinking through the product, a possible business model, etc.

But of course I got in.

And so my journey from startup enabler to startup founder begins October 24th.

Most babies were born into this world as accidents. Mine is no different. I will chronicle the highs and lows here.