One weekend… A 54-hour marathon… and a Peoples’ Choice Award – all tales from November’s StartUp Weekend Wellington @swwlg – #Health
Thanks to Mark Tantrum for allowing me to use some of his photos from the weekend – you can see more of them here.
Also, a MASSIVE thank you to David Clearwater who was responsible for organising the weekend, along with all of the mentors and volunteers who helped put it all together and kept it running smoothly – it was a brilliant experience, and I look forward to the next StartUp events!

I’m staying in the Wellington area at the moment, and while I embark on my job-hunt, I’ve been trying to take advantage of the free time, so apologies if some of my upcoming posts become less travel and more design-oriented.

I’m not going to lie, going from working full-time, as well as kickboxing training up to 10 hours a week, not to mention just meeting up and chilling out with friends in London… it’s been a difficult adjustment. I’m not used to having so much time to fill – but I’ve been doing some courses online, and teaching myself new software while working on some project ideas I’ve been knocking around for a while. I’ve also been finding groups to join and meet new people, mostly through MeetUp (if you’ve never heard of it, I highly recommend checking it out, it’s worldwide).

Through some of the events that I’ve been to, it was recommended to me that I check out a ‘StartUp weekend’, as (I was told) designers are always in demand for them.

Now, if you’ve never heard of a StartUp Weekend, don’t worry, I had heard of them, but never really knew what they were either. So the premise is this:

A StartUp weekend is a marathon event that runs from Friday evening through until Sunday evening, for 54 hours. It’s a way for anyone, from entrepreneurs to marketers, designers and developers to sector professionals, to collaborate on a project over the weekend. It’s an opportunity to find out what the world of StartUps is like, to test your abilities and learn while working in a team of great, like-minded people – and potentially working to build your own concept into a real product.

StartUp weekends not only aim to create a workable product by the final presentations on the Sunday, but concentrate too on creating a viable business plan.

The Wellington StartUp Weekend I took part in was themed around Health, working out of Otago University, the university hospital in Wellington.

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Day 1 (Introductions)

I went along on the Friday, to meet and talk with everyone, and find an idea and group that I wanted to be a part of, to work with, the rest of the weekend. The evening started with an explanation and introduction from David Clearwater, the organiser of these events in the Wellington region, of how the weekend would be run, and what we were expected to produce.

Then it was suggested we take the time over dinner to come up with our One Minute Pitch ideas, or what they call the ‘Pitch-fire’ process. These are the basic concepts we could be working on over the weekend, and anybody could pitch (and everybody was encouraged to).

This was a chance to tell everyone about your initial concept, which could be as basic as stating a problem you want to try to solve, and build enthusiasm for it. Then it was time to recruit people to join your team to work on it, through the voting process.

The voting involved each idea having a poster, which we could go around to and to speak to their ‘initiators’ and find out what skills they needed and what they were hoping to achieve over the weekend. The least popular ideas were removed (although people could continue to work on them, if they could form a team) as we formed teams.

There were some brilliant ideas out there, and as this weekend was all themed around health, the ideas ranged from health foods and drinks, to ideas that could impact the ways of working within the medical field, or how the public communicates with the health sector.

After speaking to a couple of groups, to try and get a better idea of the concepts, I was quite split between working with a couple of groups, some with concepts I didn’t fully grasp (but sounded cool), and others that sounded like great projects that would impact the health industry but that I didn’t know what my contribution would be…

In the end, I probably played it a bit safer, and joined a group that I fully understood the concept and I could also picture my role in – and were concentrating on developing a pre-packed smoothie ingredients product.

In the end there were about a dozen different teams, ranging from 3 or 4 people to around 10 to work on the favourite ideas. Once we were in our groups, we split off into rooms (our base-camps) to formulate a plan for the following morning.

One of the advantages StartUp weekends provide, is that you need to get to know your teammates very fast, so that you can support/find out if there are any areas that will need extra work on.

Our team on Friday was made up of 6 people:

  • Simon, who had pitched the idea
  • Andy, a developer who was enthusiastic about easier ways to eat healthily
  • Adam, who’s studying (sorry I can’t remember his studies – possibly nutrition?) at the University
  • Trish, a health and well-care professional
  • Jas, who’s a user experience/user interface designer
  • and myself…

As we got to know each other that evening, we started to figure out more what our roles and contributions would be, and list what we needed to look into (competition, costs, demand etc) the following day. Our team worked until around 1am coming up with our approach for Saturday, before heading home.

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Meet and greet
Pre-Pitch-fire presentation
Pitch posters (who you are, what you’re trying to do, who you need to help you)
Our start at the lean pitch canvas (this gradually gained and lost post-its along the road)

Day 2 (Validation)

We had arranged to meet back up at base first thing in the morning, at 8am…

There are some things that the organisers and mentors at StartUp weekend suggest that the Saturday should be spent concentrating on… One of the key things we had been told to concentrate on, in the intro presentations and the judging criteria, was validation – as the name suggests:

Validation was our chance to check and prove that there was value in the idea.

So this meant we had to research (in any ways we could) if our idea was something people wanted, who our customers would be, what they would pay, if they liked what we were suggesting/selling… Basically trying to do market research, product development, product testing and addressing anything all of these flagged up – all within a really tight time-frame.

It’s what they call a ‘LEAN’ development process:


For us, this involved us spending the morning, out around town and asking lots of people questions – quite a difficult thing to do, when your subject matter is ‘health’… And it was quite difficult not to lead the questioning to where we were aiming for (with our smoothie recipe boxes)…

Throughout the day, we also had ‘One Minute Catch-ups’, where one person from each group would update everybody on the progress, and also be able to request help from the experts (or other groups) in areas we were struggling.

By midday, we’d spoken to over 50 people and were starting to put together our findings – before we spoke with some of the mentors…

The mentors we initially spoke to were critical, and at the time, it didn’t feel like constructive criticism so felt like a step backwards, but I think it actually made us question some different areas of our approach that we hadn’t thought of. We spent a little while discussing their comments between us in the group, and were really struggling to see what our next step was…

Thankfully at this point, one of the other mentors suggested that what we really needed to do was to prove that there was a true demand for our product… and what better way to do this than see if we could sell it to people!

After breaking for lunch, Trish and I headed to the local supermarket, and picked up the ingredients for 3 different smoothie recipes (5 portions of each) for us to try and sell. We created our sample products, and set about half of the group selling them that afternoon, while the other half created the draft pitch presentation which was later that evening, and also some of the collateral we wanted for the smoothie product – which by this point we had come up with a name for… introducing:


Our practise presentation that evening turned out to be the last on the schedule… at 12.30am, so although this meant we had slightly longer to work on the presentation… it also meant that not all of our team could stay for it. Typically as well, even though the presentations themselves are only 5 minutes, the feedback from other practise pitches meant we were slightly late to start too.

Somehow – probably because I had been writing up the presentation document – I ended up doing the practice pitch.

It was really useful, as the mentors there gave us some feedback on areas that we hadn’t covered, as well as suggestions on what else we could do to make the pitch run smoother. By the time we had finished the pitch, and taken notes of the feedback, packed up etc, we didn’t actually leave until around 1.30…

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Our team, working away at various points in the day

Day 3 (Pitch Day)

One of the things pointed out to us in our practise presentation was that we hadn’t (at that point) done any branding for our product – so when I got back home (around 3 am) after our practise pitch, I started on that…

It was definitely one of the fastest logos I’ve created, and I was plenty tired so the thought process was pretty basic too… but I posted it on the group shared area for them to look at first thing in the morning. Thankfully, everyone was happy with it, so we went ahead branding up our (remaining) product samples and adding it into our presentation and collateral. Check out the logo in the final presentation at the bottom.

Our team approach was quite efficient, as we all had different specialisms, so it made sense to split off and work individually or in pairs when necessary and we only really regrouped for decision making times and before the pitches.

And Sunday morning was one of the occasions where we put this into good use. While some of the team were out selling our product, there were a couple of us back at base working through the comments from the practise pitch and making sure that the business plan was sound.

This was pretty much how the whole of Sunday went down:

  • working out more details for the business plan, like the financial side
  • making sure that our products had the health benefits we were aiming for
  • analysing our research and making it more easily understood for the presentation
  • some more opportunities to practice our pitch presentation
  • updating the presentation from the mentors’ feedback
The final pitch was going to be just before dinner – and even though we had been last up to do our practise presentations, we were asked if we’d mind going first for the pitches to the judges (and audience)… We all discussed this and decided to take the ‘do it first and then relax’ approach!
So, after spending the day writing up the presentation, checking it against the judging criteria, creating the slides… as well as doing two other practise pitches that day, the team and I stood at the front of a packed auditorium…
As I had done the previous practise presentations, we’d decided to stick with it, so I was mic’d up to give our pitch…
I’m not going to lie, it was nerve-wracking – I’ve never given a talk, presented or spoken to that many people at once. I think the last time I even stood in front of that many people I was just walking up at my graduation to take a scroll and receive a handshake… So this was a bit different…
And it wasn’t just the other teams pitching, we had the 4 judges who were industry specialists, as well as the rest of the auditorium of spectators waiting to see what we had come up with in our 54-hour marathon…
The pitch went well, and we fielded the questions from the judges without too many issues (bar having to unclip the mic so that any of the others from the team could answer). Then we got to sit back and relax while the other pitches went on…
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Auditorium filling up, with the judges front and center
David Clearwater giving his opening Pitch-night speech
A couple of pictures taken of the rest of the Smoovee team and I took to the stage
Pictures of the other team presentations

After all of the pitches, the judges took a bit of time to deliberate… which gave us a chance to sit and relax. At this point, the mentors decided to surprise us all, with their ‘Everyone’s a Winner’ awards – just little funny prizes for each team to say congratulations to us all for making it through… After these awards, and while we were sat waiting for the judges verdict, there was also the ‘public’ vote (via the well-tested, and ever popular cheer-ometer)…

It was a very proud moment, and utter surprise, when Smoovee were announced “Peoples’ Choice”!!! As our prize, we each got one of the specially designed StartUp Weekend #Health t-shirts.

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Proud recipients of the Peoples’ Choice Award – team Smoovee.

The final winners for Wellington’s StartUp Weekend #Health were the well deserving ‘Uncharted’ team, who were (and are) looking to develop easier-to-read medical charts in the cloud – check out an article about the project here.

If you fancy checking out some of our presentation slides, you can see them below:

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(Apologies, they may not make as much sense without the spoken aspect of the presentation)