Outdoor Industry Innovation Challenge | Starts January 12

A non-traditional collegiate innovation competition bring together entrepreneurial problem-solvers from a variety of backgrounds to address pressing challenges within the outdoor recreation industry.

Collaborate and compete with fellow students from Colorado’s higher-education community.

Connect with outdoor enthusiasts, aspiring entrepreneurs and industry innovators.

Be considered for cash prizes and special recognitions.

Join us at one of our kickoff events in January:

Saturday 1/12, 10am-2pm, Colorado School of Mines

Wednesday 1/30, 4-7pm, The Commons on Champa


New for 2019, The Wright Outdoor Innovation Challenge is a non-traditional collegiate innovation competition designed to bring together problem-solving minds from a variety of backgrounds (from engineering and hard sciences to economics, business, and policy) to address pressing needs within the outdoor recreation industry. Student teams will have the opportunity to learn about the unique challenges facing the industry in three challenge areas, engage with mentors with deep industry experience, and pitch their ideas in a tournament format for a shot at cash and prizes.

The goal of the Challenge is to catalyze innovative and entrepreneurial thinking in participating students, encouraging them to apply a problem-solving mindset beyond traditional disciplines. More broadly, we hope to establish foundational and authentic connections between Colorado higher-education institutions and the outdoor industry, creating inroads for future collaboration and career opportunities.

The Challenge is not your typical award program or pitch competition. We’re looking for students who are passionate about real work in the outdoor industry, and committed to developing practical, innovative solutions to real-world problems with an entrepreneur’s eye.

Our 2019 areas of focus are:


The outdoor industry is taking a lead role in discussions on transitioning economies, sustainable community development and environmental stewardship by driving a more robust discussion around systemic sustainability challenges and holistic product design.


Manufacturers and gear producers are constantly searching for new technologies, materials, and manufacturing techniques that can increase performance, decrease cost, and unlock new possibilities for outdoor recreation.


Address social determinants of health by increasing outdoor recreation opportunities for people of all backgrounds and abilities. And/or assist in quantifying impacts of access to outdoor recreation and related social determinants on healthcare outcomes and costs.


The Challenge will kick off with a live “reverse pitch” event at the Colorado School of Mines, our host campus, on January 12, 2019. Outdoor Industry companies and organizations representing each area of focus will provide participants with a chance to learn about the problem space and ask questions, as well as form teams, interact with participants from across the state, and get feedback on their problem solving approaches. The reverse pitches will also be streamed and recorded for virtual participants to access.

On January 30th, we will host a second reverse pitch & mentorship session at the Something Independent Trade School event, concurrent with the Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show event in Denver (Jan 30 - Feb 1, 2019). This will provide participants an opportunity to engage with the broader outdoor industry community and experience the energy and vibrancy of the industry first-hand at its largest single gathering.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is welcome to participate?

Currently-enrolled students (undergraduate or graduate) from any participating institution are welcome to participate. Individual institutions may have additional qualifications - please check with your institution’s sponsors for additional details.

What are the judging criteria?

The format will be a tournament-style pitch competition with two elimination rounds - one to determine finalists within each area of focus, and a second to determine an overall champion. Participants will be judged on the following criteria:


  • How clearly have you articulated your understanding of the problem space?
  • Have you put together a unique, realistic, actionable solution to present?


  • Has the target beneficiary actually tried your solution?
  • Is there tangible evidence the solution is on track (even initially) to solve their problem?
  • Is your problem-solving approach well-reasoned and thorough?
  • How well have you vetted your concept with potential partners and/or customers? Is it marketable?
  • How well does your team bring to bear a variety of disciplines (e.g. engineering, business, policy) to arrive at a well-rounded solution?


Many outdoor companies are based in communities close to where they can test product, outside of major urban areas. These communities are frequently looking for ways to increase their economic bases, provide training and education to improve the talent pool in their local workforces, and expand from seasonal to year-round economies.

  • Does your solution provide job creation and/or workforce development/training (this could encompass new business development)?


One of the industry’s greatest challenges is in ensuring that the recreational and economic opportunities it fosters are accessible to individuals encompassing a diverse set of backgrounds, abilities, and socioeconomic statuses.

  • Does your solution address these concerns?

Who are the participating institutions?

Additional participating schools will be confirmed shortly.

How do I get involved?

There are two steps:

  • One, plan to attend one of our kickoff sessions in January. Though the sessions will be recorded for those who can’t make it in person, the sessions are great opportunity to get briefed on the challenge areas, meet potential teammates, and connect with mentors. These sessions are open to students from any institution.
  • Second, contact your campus coordinator for more details on the resources that your school has available to participants. These may include course credit, grant money, transportation, and more.

How does my institution participate?

Reach out to chuck@somethingindependent.com for additional details.

Special thanks to our community partners