At Outdoor Retailer Summer 2016, the Outdoor Industries Women's Coalition (OIWC) rebranded to Camber Outdoors.
Outdoor Retailer, a trade show that takes place in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is the largest biannual gathering of the outdoor industry, isn’t just about checking out new products from outdoor brands (and drooling over them, of course). The innovative activities that happen off the trade-show floor have been progressing every year with events like the Futurists, a networking for younger folks in the industry, and the Outdoor Foundation’s Outsiders Ball, a pre-show mingling party that promotes getting youth into the outdoors.
Second to none, though, is the Camber Outdoors Pitchfest, an event that invites female entrepreneurs in the male-dominated outdoor industry to muster up some Shark Tank-like gusto and pitch their business ventures to seven judges and an audience of CEOs, industry peers, press and angel investors.
The event takes place in part thanks to the REI Foundation’s Mary Anderson Legacy Grant and the Meineke Family Donor Fund. “Until our inaugural Pitchfest last year, there was no formal avenue for women entrepreneurs in our industry," says Laura Swapp, Director of Public Affairs & Marketing at REI and Vice President of the REI Foundation. "This program is an incredible way to fuel that side of our industry and to shine light on viable business ideas that solve real problems and drive the innovation that we rely on.”
After a successful inaugural Pitchfest last year, the tradition continued this week. Deanne Buck, the Executive Director of the Camber Outdoors, opened the event reminding the female entrepreneurs in the room “There is an entire community here that has your back.” The sentiment continued in a minute-long video showcasing fit, active women doing their thing in the outdoors mixed with young girls speaking into the camera. “I am stronger than you,” said one. “I can be anything,” said another. Cue the chills.
Camber Outdoors, with the help of over 40 volunteers, whittled 47 applications down to eight finalists. These eight delivered smooth pitches (seriously, where were the nerves?) and made very strong cases for each of their businesses, which covered everything from algae-based energy edibles to a new style of kids’ boots for mud-bogging. The judges included heavy-hitters in the outdoor industry like Jerry Stritzke, the CEO of REI; Dan Nordstrom, the CEO of Outdoor Research; Jill Layfield, formerly the CEO of Backcountry.com; Susan Viscon, the Senior Vice President of Merchandising and Private Brands Divisions at REI; and Sally McCoy, former CEO of CamelBak, among others.
While there isn’t a winner, per say, among the eight finalists who delivered their pitches, they all received valuable assets for becoming finalists, including mentorship, consulting contacts, public speaking support, and other enviable entrepreneur support. The judges asked questions and gave fair critical observation to each finalist–sometimes points of praise and other times words of advice. The message most often heard was: “Simplify your mission. Don’t try to be too many things at once. Focus on one part of your brand and run with it.” The thing most often asked for by the pitchers was an advisor to consult on each of their brands.
Photography by Angela Crampton – REI employee.
Here’s a breakdown of the finalists:
1. The Dyrt
Company: TheDyrt.com, a 60-day-old search engine for campgrounds with crowdsourced reviews. They’ve partnered with brands to give away $112,000 in gear prizes, which also feeds a social media post or two to the brands participating.
The Future: They foresee moving into the adventure travel sector with guided trips, gear reviews embedded in the campground reviews, and campground bookings.
The Feedback: The judges loved the gamification aspect of the $112,000 giveaway, but hope TheDyrt.com can focus on the campground bookings—with campsite-by-campsite feedback—and not try to be too many things.
Company: Children’s gear made from durable materials created by a former lawyer turned stay-at-home mom who loved bringing her kids into the outdoors. Their flagship product: outdoor boots that extend up to the knee and are made of soft material from the ankle up that lets them easily pack down.
The Future: Moving towards making more apparel products that allow parents to worry less about their kids’ gear and more about enjoying the moment.
The Feedback: “Find true north and tell that message,” said one judge, who felt the branding could be improved and suggested that small new brands should focus on one product. The core functionality of the product is there, but the brand story could be more cohesive. And the design could use attention.
Company: An organization dedicated to connecting urban dwellers to a more outdoorsy, adventurous life through multiple channels—outdoor festivals near city centers, community “mappy” hours, and their newly-acquired digital website, OffMetro. “We value connection and we’ve proved this offline,” said OutdoorFest founder Sarah Knapp of the OffMetro acquisition. “Now we want to bring this online.”
The Future: Increase awareness and frequency of events and move their revenue stream from brand sponsorship to online advertisement.
The Feedback: Solving urban outdoor access is a great spot to be in. Figure out what your overarching brand is that ties all of the pieces together.
Company: Apparel brands have warehouses full of returned or defective products that usually end up in the landfill. The Renewal Workshop is working to repair or reimagine those pieces and re-circulate them into consumers’ hands.
The Future: The Renewal Project partners with five brands currently: Ibex, Mountain Khakis, Prana, Toad & Co and Indigenous. Their goal is to partner with more brands and “make the cycle linear.”
The Feedback: The social value of this business is good. “We’d love to see this business make it,” said the judges. They encouraged the founder, Nicole Bassett, to do more research, think about her business model and figure out retail and brand solutions.
Company: Tiny algae tabs that eliminate fatigue and help with recovery for the active lifestyle.
The Future: Increased retail distribution and expansion into other markets.
The Feedback: Plant-based, protein-based energy foods are important to good health. The financials are solid and the business opportunity looks good, but the retail model won’t scale. Some refinement could be beneficial there.
Company: Durable, water-resistant women’s bike bags built for daily commuting but are so stylish, women love to wear them off the bike too.
The Future: Wants to grow to a $5 million company by 2020.
The Feedback: The design and financials are solid and the product is solving a problem. Kudos to PoCampo. The judges’ advice is to focus on regional markets where bike commuting is peaking instead of trying to be everywhere.
Company: This company, founded by outdoor industry veteran and entrepreneur Kristin Carpenter-Ogden, has a mission to delivery coaching and mentorship and create a peer community to entrepreneurs in the outdoor industry.
The Future: Launch their A-Game Alliance, an e-learning program for entrepreneurs including webinars, courses, networking events and more in September 2016. Carpenter-Ogden also hopes this program will turn the lens towards the outdoor industry (“the passion industry,” says Carpenter-Ogden) to help it gain exposure.
The Feedback: Judges acknowledged that there is a trend in e-learning, but questioned how this could become a real business because the outdoor industry is limiting. They suggested connecting entrepreneurs with the large investment community.
8. The Ski Lab
Company: Build your own skis. The Ski Lab provides the full suite of necessities—materials and knowledge—to allow customers to build their own skis.
The Future: The Ski Lab wants to grow their business and expand their exposure.
The Feedback: There is a trend in meet-the-maker and custom products. And the owners come with a lot of authenticity. But the market is small for people who want to build their own ski equipment, so find where your opportunity is and where you can scale to meet it.
All of the finalists of the OIWC Pitchfest 2016 received the same suite of entrepreneur assets: a CFO coach, legal services/ legal business consultation and business presentation coaching.