Months of relentless dedication saw Ruby Zhang pushing her limits, with four rigorous training sessions each day – two devoted to weight training and two dedicated to elevating her cardio endurance. The outcome? A 4th-place finish in the fiercely competitive 2019 China Fit Muscle Contest’s Bikini Group category.
But after moving to the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic to pursue a master’s degree from USC’s Marshall School of Business, Zhang felt socially isolated and lost her motivation to go to the gym, especially without a workout buddy.
While facing this problem, she came up with a solution that would also put her business acumen to the test. She decided to build a platform to help students improve their mental health and physical activities to enjoy a better campus life: SoFiiT.
Launched at USC in August, the digital fitness app “aims to find users their perfect gym buddy so that [they] can be more passionate about working out!” The app’s core features include a matchmaking system, a progress dashboard, a chat & schedule system, workout posting, and a community engagement tab.
Currently only available to USC students, SoFiiT plans to expand its product to off-campus students and eventually other universities across the country.
But what makes SoFiiT’s story compelling is its profound connection with the USC Viterbi Startup Garage.
“One of the main reasons I wanted to join the Viterbi Startup Garage was to be surrounded by like-minded individuals who were passionate about building their products,” said Zhang, who graduated from The USC Marshall School of Business with an MBA in 2023.
The USC Viterbi Startup Garage is an incubator with a mission to foster a collaborative and supportive space for entrepreneurs to turn ideas into success. Focusing on deep technology, machine learning, and AI-enabled companies, the incubator offers a “one-year residency program supported by the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering without taking equity or charging fees.”
“After being selected for the interview round, I had to present and pitch my company to all of the mentors in the program. They asked a lot of questions which helped me identify which areas of the company to focus on,” said Zhang.
As part of the Summer 2023 cohort, SoFiiT applied to the Viterbi Startup Garage because of the endless opportunities it would expose the company to.
Aside from offering office space in its Marina Del Rey office, the Viterbi Startup Garage acts as an incubator where startup founders can receive mentorship and support, legal advising, and valuable networks of startup founders and investors.
“Coming into the startup garage, the biggest challenges the company was facing were the business model and innovation,” said Zhang. “Talking to the mentors and other founders helped in that aspect a lot. I don’t think I could have found the level of support I was receiving anywhere else.”
“The Viterbi Startup Garage really offers all the resources a startup needs to succeed, but the Summer Smasher Program was definitely the biggest tool for the company,” said Zhang.
The Summer Smasher Program is an internship program hosted by USC Viterbi’s Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship in which students from Viterbi, Marshall, Keck, and Dornsife are given the opportunity to work on an 8-week project for a startup in the Viterbi Startup Garage.
“Through the Summer Smasher Program, our team interviewed 65 candidates, which we narrowed down to 9 people to join SoFiiT for the summer,” said Zhang. “Those 9 students did such an amazing job that we kept most of them on the team for the fall semester.”
Additionally, USC Viterbi Startup Garage’s extensive network has provided SoFiiT with many opportunities.
“Every week, we have a founders’ circle meeting where all the founders come together to discuss that week’s goals. It’s a safe space and I’ve gotten valuable insight from other founders and mentors during those meetings,” said Zhang.
Arcelia Navarro, the Program and Operations Manager at the Viterbi Startup Garage, brought up the importance of diversifying startups for the community aspect of the program.
“At the startup garage, we love working with startups from all kinds of different industries because they bring new perspectives and work cultures. The SoFiiT team is always so vibrant and loud, making them fun to work with,” said Navarro. “The community of startups is definitely the most important and best thing that is offered through the program. You become a part of a group of people who will help you to succeed.”
As SoFiiT gears up to dominate the fitness tech industry, the USC Viterbi Startup Garage continues its legacy, providing entrepreneurs with the right environment and support to reach their full potential.
For those eager to be part of this fitness revolution, SoFiiT’s app is now available for download.
For more information about The USC Viterbi Startup Garage, click here.
Published on October 12th, 2023
Last updated on October 12th, 2023