Meet Australian Olympic Athlete and Entrepreneur Marianna Tolo

Marianna Tolo serves as an inspiration to any of us who feel time-poor; she balances being an Olympic athlete (representing Australia as a basketballer) and the associated training on top of starting her own business.

We had the pleasure of getting to know Marianna Tolo during the CBRIN Idea to Impact 10 Week Customer Challenge, and thought her a brilliant ideator. But most Aussies would recognise her immediatley from her work in a totally different forum — on the basketball court.

That’s because Marianna is a WNBL (Women’s National Basketball League) super star, Opal and will be representing her country for the second time in the Olympics this year.

Which made us feel a little bit small … and not just because she stands 1.96m tall.

Thankfully, Marianna is as gracious as she is gifted, and we had a quick chat about innovation. Between training sessions.

CBRIN: Okay, Marianna, we can barely get through the day avoiding catastrophe. Tell us how you’ve managed to juggle an OLYMPIC training schedule with an intensive, ten-week workshop on entrepreneurship, please?!

MARIANNA: It has actually been great to have something else to focus on, whilst pursuing my career as a basketballer! And my idea was born out of personal frustrations I encountered when going to games, or travelling. So it just made sense, and has helped me exercise a different part of myself.

CBRIN: That’s fantastic. We are all at the office, wearing my pyjamas. So.

MARIANNA: Don’t sell yourselves short. I only started to develop my idea as a part of the Idea to Impact course. I thought it was perfect timing for me to do the course, even though I’ll have to put a hold on the momentum it’s created because I was selected for the Opals Australian basketball team to head to the Olympics next month. It will be my second Olympic Games; it’s so hard just to make the team that I’m extremely excited, despite all the challenges this one will bring.

CBRIN: Kudos! We were recently selected as our local MenuLog delivery person’s MVPs (“Most Valuable Patrons”). We assume you’ll crush the competition on the court no problem, but what sorts of hurdles do you have to clear in the entrepreneurship realm? What’s your idea and how do you see it working?

MARIANNA: My idea is for a portable lock box to store your valuables when you’re out and about. As a professional basketball player, my partner has always complained about me losing ‘the nice things’ he buys me. I’m even more anxious now that I have an engagement ring (!); I can never wear it to training, I just leave it at home.

From my research of the current market, the lock box options out there are generally for somewhere like the beach and are flimsy, and not very secure. So I hope to bring security, and, thereby, a peace of mind, to my potential customers.

CBRIN: We hear (nudge, wink) that this course is tough in that it requires participants to conduct 100 potential customer conversations over the the ten weeks. How do you accomplish that, no assist (see what we did there?)?

MARIANNA: As my idea would be useful to a lot of different athletes in particular, I’ve been having a lot of customer conversations with other sportspeople, before, after and whilst at the gym. I’ve learnt that it has been important to be efficient with these convos, so I don’t waste people’s time. And so our coaches don’t start telling us off 😉

CBRIN: That’s amazing. You’ve inspired us to take leave from Tim Tams as you prepare to travel to Tokyo and, during that time, make a few customer calls. Because, as the course teaches us, “lean innovation depends on solving a customer’s needs, not just bringing an idea to life.”

MARIANNA: Happy to help. And thank you, CBRIN, for the guidance, support and encouragement!

Follow Marianna on Twitter at @MariannaTolo.