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How to Become the Next Big Outdoor Entrepreneur: A Q&A with Craig Cooper

Lifelong adventurer Craig Cooper is continuing his search for passion and profits. The former co-host of the CNBC’s outdoor investment show “Adventure Capitalists," is joining the judging panel this month for The Pitch, a OneSeed sponsored event where budding outdoor entrepreneurs present their gear ideas for a chance to win a cash prize and product exposure.

Similar to how OneSeed funds entrepreneurs in the countries where we operate, The Pitch is looking to finance local outdoor gear creators willing to take big risks. The idea of being a part of the judging process and seeking new and bold talent to take the outdoor industry to new heights was very alluring to Craig. In fact, “meeting passionate entrepreneurs” is what gets him up in the morning.

Cooper, 55, co-founded Boost Mobile and believes that the peak of your life can be found past age 40. We asked the entrepreneur/author/athlete about what’s next for the outdoor industry and the importance of taking risks.

Q: As an outdoor enthusiast and serial entrepreneur, what excites you most about being on the panel for “The Pitch” at Outdoor Retailer this month?

My business and personal life is built around being active and outdoors, and participating in life as much as I can. Getting first hand exposure and access to new businesses and opportunities - as well as meeting passionate and driven entrepreneurs - is what gets me out of bed every morning.

Q: What do you think is the most innovative thing happening in the outdoor industry right now?

That’s a big question. I think the industry is so multi-faceted that no one thing is driving innovation. But the overall sector has certainly been getting much more attention from venture capitalists the last few years with funding allocated to the sector continuing to rise.

Having said that I think the intersection of technology and active lifestyles is driving a lot of innovation - be it in wearable sensors, sports-tech, technical fabrics, as well as digital platforms that drive better human performance. And the global shift from some of the big retailers to require sustainability standards to be met by their suppliers is something that is long overdue – so that’s going to drive a lot of innovation on the product side.

Q: Personally, is there a piece of gear that you can’t live without in your day-to-day adventures?

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Most of my outdoor activity is focused on obstacle course racing. I’m lucky to live in Southern California where it’s mostly fine all year round - so I get to be outside pretty much every day of the year doing something.

One thing I can’t live without? That’s hard. But I’ve been swimming a lot lately and I’m loving these ROKA swim shorts. I’m also an Ambassador for 2XU so I’m usually head-to-toe in their gear on the running trails.

Q: As the former co-host of the CNBC outdoor investment show “Adventure Capitalists,” what made certain products or pitches stand out to you?

There were four things always in the back of my mind that drove my investment decisions on the show:

Firstly, how passionate was the founder about their business? It may sound trite but you need to separate those entrepreneurs that are truly passionate about their business from those that are treating it purely as a business/financial opportunity. Which leads me to my second point:

Was the entrepreneur an “authentic participant” in their market segment? Did they live and breathe the lifestyle they were representing? To me, if you’re not an active participant in your industry it’s a big red flag.

Thirdly, I looked for businesses that had the potential to massively disrupt existing markets and industries. So many companies in the outdoor industry just try to compete on brand - and sometimes that works (take “Stance” socks for example). However I was looking for businesses that weren’t just a “bit” better than the entrenched competitors – they had to be “massively better” in order to compete and displace the market leaders. Most of the time brand and a marketing budget is not enough.

And lastly, I looked for businesses that were potentially creating a completely new market segment. These are the businesses that you go away asking yourself “why didn’t I think of that?”. Those are the ones that are few and far between but which can really make a difference.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the Action Fund? Why is it important to support businesses and entrepreneurs that are looking to make a meaningful contribution to the world?

The Action Fund invests in companies that drive better outcomes for humans and the planet - and that covers everything from med-tech, health-tech, sustainable food and clothing solutions, nutrition, and digital and consumer health & wellness platforms. Unlike other venture funds that “dabble” in the sector, all of the partners and associates in The Action Fund are active participants in the sectors we invest in and we’re all immersed in the industry and culture. We’re investing in the future of humanity. I don’t think there is any better calling than that.

Q: As adventurers, we see a common tie between the risk we take in the mountains with the risk people take every day opening their own business. How does risk factor into your life in both business and outdoor adventure?

Everything we do that is challenging is usually risky at some level. The difference though is that not accounting for risk in the mountains more often than not has deadly consequences! Risk and reward are the balance of opposites for an entrepreneur. We all hear the highlights of business success but rarely do we hear the struggles and personal sacrifices that are made to the health, family, and social structure of our business leaders. Being an entrepreneur is accepting that your life is about swinging for the fences and that you are going to strike out a lot. But if you want the freedoms that success brings, then you have to weather the inevitable adversity that always precedes it.

Q: Why is important to remain adventurous and active throughout your life? How does the adventure mindset help as an entrepreneur?

I think there are a lot of clichéd answers here about risk and planning - or standing atop the mountain - or how business is an adventure etc. But look no further than Richard Branson or Yvon Chouinard. These guys broke the mold in terms of leading a life of adventure first - and building great businesses second. These guys are my business heroes.

Q: What words of wisdom can you share with small outdoor start ups wanting to stand out from the crowd?

Stand out from the crowd!


Learn more about Craig's work on www.craigcooper.net, and The Pitch event on July 24th at this summer's Outdoor Retailer show in Denver, CO.  

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