“Can you explain the revenue model?” “What percentage of your sales are from repeat customers?” “Do you see this as a lifestyle business or as having the potential to be a huge scalable company?”

An all-star panel of CEOs, investors, and leaders in the outdoor industry fired off these questions and more at Camber OutdoorsPitchfest at this year’s Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City. Seven women at the helm of innovative businesses took the stage to showcase their work and growth plans.

Photo: John Evans

Jennifer Hannon created Machines for Freedom, a premium women’s cycling brand, after sensing that women’s cycling apparel was derivative of men’s clothes and geared towards racing culture.

Emily Nielson of Dirty Gourmet showcased how her team’s business elevates food in the outdoors through catered camping events and cooking workshops.

Aryn Schlichting of Mountain Careers created a niche job board for outdoor enthusiasts seeking professional opportunities and a mountain lifestyle.

Christina Johnson of Upcycle It Now talked about creative solutions to textile waste, showing how she partners with brands to upcycle products and create value again.

Amy Kemp of Elevate CoSpace dreamed up an creative coworking space and innovation center where adventure and tech intersect.

Anne Patterson of Solavore introduced the Solavore Go, a portable, lightweight solar oven that produces sun-baked meals while you explore the outdoors.

Gloria Hwang of Thousand showed off her urban biking brand that is rebranding the bike helmet and helping curb the impact of bike accidents. A helmet you’d actually want to wear!

These women rocked the stage and impressed audience members and judges alike with their innovation, experience, and business acumen. We caught up with a few of them after the event to hear more of their thoughts.

Photo: Tracy Chandler

What has your experience been like as a female entrepreneur in the outdoor industry?

Jennifer Hannon (Machines for Freedom): “My experience in the cycling industry has been both challenging and extremely rewarding.  My background is in Entertainment and Restaurant design and the cycling industry is extremely small by comparison.  That made challenging the status quo extremely intimidating!  In my previous creative industries there was a lot of acceptance around new ideas and doing things differently, but cycling is very steeped in tradition.  There are “right ways” and “wrong ways”.  As an outsider, there was a pressure to be “accepted”.  But on the other hand, having that outside perspective and seeing a community positively engage with new and different ideas has been extremely rewarding.  The experience has taught me so many lessons about trusting my instincts that it’s impossible to count them all.”

Emily Nielson (Dirty Gourmet): “It is a great time to be a female business owner in the outdoor industry. The industry is focused on making big strides to improve gender equity in the outdoors, and we are happy to contribute to the movement. Dirty Gourmet has found strong support from other female entrepreneurs, especially with the help of Camber Outdoors’ Pitchfest.”

Gloria Hwang (Thousand): “Awesome- The outdoor industry has been incredibly supportive and welcoming.  Even as first time OR exhibitors, I’ve been amazed to see, and meet, so many cool women doing innovative things.  Coming from an industry that’s a little more male dominated, it’s been a refreshing change.”

Anne Patterson (Solavore): “In my particular field, solar cooking, I fortunately have noticed little male/female bias.   I’ve been lucky enough to be well-received in virtually all of my endeavors.”

Best advice from the judges?

Jennifer Hannon: “Don’t be afraid to talk about your big ideas!  You’ll get pushback, so make sure you have researched and prepared.  But the big ideas are the one’s that people get most excited about.”

Emily Nielson: “Though the judges thought our plan for growing Dirty Gourmet organically while maintaining full control was admirable, they also noted that this is a great time to be in the business of food + outdoors, and there’s room for growth if we’re interested in scaling.”

Gloria Hwang: “I’d say the best advice actually came from my Pitchfest mentor, Gregg Baggini. He told me that my enemy in this industry isn’t the competition. It’s sameness.”

Anne Patterson: “The importance of having a tight, focused message.  Solar cooking at camp strikes many themes, from sustainability (cooking without wood or fuel) to health (from scratch vs freeze-dried) to fun & easy (set it up, go off hiking/mtb’ing/climbing, etc), plus the fact that Solavore is a social enterprise committed to ​providing clean cooking alternatives in the wood-dependent developing world.  So it’s important to be able to deliver a simple story.”

How has Pitchfest helped move your business forward?

Jennifer Hannon: “It was an amazing opportunity to meet the panel of judges and to see what other small businesses are doing.  And because road cycling operates a little outside the typical “outdoor industry” circles, it was really insightful to see how our message was received by the on-cycling ladies adventurers out there.  As for tangible results, only the future knows!”

Emily Nielson: “As a new business, it was an amazing opportunity to be paired with a knowledgeable mentor and a strong support group of other women leaders in order to solidify the growth strategy of Dirty Gourmet. We feel confident in our chosen direction and hope to continue benefitting from the new connections we made during the process.”

Gloria Hwang: “Just connecting with an amazing network of people. For us, we’re new to the outdoor space, so establishing partners in brand, retail, and finance is incredibly valuable.”

Anne Patterson: “It’s clear that Camber Outdoors is highly-respected and well-supported in the outdoor industry, from the financial backing of the biggest brands to the presence at Pitchfest of leading executives – who in turn made themselves accessible to us Pitchfest finalists.  This exposure and networking opportunity: priceless!​”

Pitchfest is an incredible opportunity to take women-run businesses to the next level. We look forward to continued industry backing and support of these innovative women.