Outdoor women: OIWC wants you ... to pitch your ideas

Have an idea for an outdoor product, innovation or business? OIWC is giving women a chance to pitch it and get the concept rolling.
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It's no secret: the outdoor industry is a male-dominated realm.

Outdoor industry and lifestyle adventure magazines tend to cater much more to men than women, according to a report done in 2014 by outdoor outlet Misadventures. Men are writing the content, and men lead a significant portion of outdoor retail businesses. But men clearly aren’t the only ones participating in outdoor recreation.

This is where the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition (OIWC) enters the picture. Since the organization’s founding in 1996, it has been working to change the gender imbalance in the outdoor industry. And thanks to a $1.5 million grant from REI earlier this year, OIWC will be expanding its mission, rolling out new initiatives during the next few years.

This spring and summer, OIWC launches its first-ever "The Workshop's Pitchfest," an opportunity for women to jump into or rise up in the outdoor industry by presenting an idea, innovation, or product to top CEOs in the industry. Women who might not be involved in the outdoor industry but have a passion for it can finally have a chance to dive in headfirst. And it doesn’t matter if the idea is in the very beginning phases or if it’s further developed. Any innovative idea goes at Pitchfest — as long as it’s the created by a woman.

“I know, just from anecdotal stories, that the majority of people coming to other pitchfests, like in the tech industry, are men,” OIWC Executive Director Deanne Buck said. “We want to help infuse our industry with diversity of thought. Our goal is that the industry becomes an industry for women.”

The first step to entering Pitchfest: submitting an application. The applications, which are a combination of video and written presentations, are due by June 1. Both individuals and teams are eligible to enter applications, as long as they are members of OIWC and the team or company is at least 51 percent controlled or owned by women.

Once applications are submitted, they will be reviewed by a panel of industry experts based on the pitches’ “innovation, impact, viability, and opportunity for industry change.” The panel will select between five to ten finalists who will then be invited to present their ideas in front of outdoor industry CEOs the day prior to the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, August 4, at outdoor online retailer's Backcountry.com headquarters in Park City, Utah.

The CEOs will offer the finalists feedback and insights on their ideas and point out potential hurdles that they might come up against. Finalists will then be given the tools and strategies necessary to refine their projects and to, hopefully, bring their ideas to fruition.

The winner of Pitchfest would get a serious boost in making that happen. According to Buck, OIWC will put together a prize support package for the winner that it will include “resources that are necessary for any entrepreneur.”

“For example, we’ll offer a speech coach, as all new business owners need to be able to articulate what it is they are bringing to the market,” Buck said. “They need to be able to say what problem they’re trying to solve and why they’ll be successful, and they’ll need to do that succinctly and in a way that really convinces potential vendors.”

Other possible prize package inclusions are accounting help and public relations assistance. Because, as Buck pointed out, while new entrepreneurs obviously need funds, they also need the right support so they can fully focus on the ideas and the concepts driving the endeavor.

“This is the first time we’re doing this, and OIWC is really looking at how it could uniquely impact our industry and really elevate women’s leadership and pair that with greater innovation,” Buck said. “We need a diversity of experience and thought. Innovation is what brings better ideas to the table.”

--Becca Stanek

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