The Wright Collegiate Challenge

A non-traditional collegiate challenge designed to encourage innovative thinking across core themes in the outdoor industry.


The Wright Collegiate Challenge encourages innovative thinking across core themes critical to the outdoor industry. Bringing together creative problem-solvers from a variety of backgrounds to address persistent challenges facing diverse stakeholders in the outdoor recreation community, The Wright Challenge aims to spark out-of-the-box ideas and entrepreneurial thinking amongst students, encouraging them to apply a problem-solving mindset beyond traditional disciplines. This challenge initiative is for students interested in the real work of the outdoor industry, who are ready to explore practical, innovative solutions to real issues with an entrepreneur’s eyes.


Launched in 2019, in collaboration with the Colorado School of Mines and the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office with support from Jefferson County Economic Development Corporation, the Challenge sparked interest and participation from 74 students who had the opportunity to learn about unique challenges facing the outdoor industry in three areas — conservation, stewardship & sustainability; innovative materials & technologies; accessibility, health & wellness — engage with mentors with deep industry experience and ultimately pitch their ideas to a diverse panel of judges.

In 2020, we introduced a new virtual format, centrally organized and managed via the online Zoom platform, and in partnership with the Western Colorado University Outdoor Industry MBA program. Student participants and challenge presenters engaged virtually throughout their projects, with Michael Clayton, a second-year student in the Outdoor MBA program, serving as online challenge Community Manager. The Community Manager’s role is to streamline communications, coordinate online forums and help participants track down information and resources, as necessary.


The 2021 Challenge

In this second year of the Challenge, we are excited to introduce a new virtual format, centrally organized and managed via the online Zoom platform. In partnership with the Western Colorado University Outdoor Industry MBA program, student participants and challenge presenters will engage virtually throughout their projects. Michael Clayton, a second-year student in the Outdoor MBA program will be serving as online challenge Community Manager as part of a fellowship program with Western’s Outdoor MBA program. The Community Manager’s role is to streamline communications, coordinate online forums and help participants track down information and resources, as necessary.

Students will have the opportunity to participate in one of five total challenges being presented in the areas of:


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.

Past Challenge Partners


Smartwool receives a number of warranty items back from our great consumers each year via mail. In addition, we sometimes have excess inventory that isn’t suitable for the marketplace. Currently, we don’t have a sustainable solution to dispose of unwearable/unsaleable items. We are looking for both upcycling and recycling solutions that better the planet and our communities, and, if possible, Smartwool’s revenue stream. We are open to any ideas that fit within our purpose and values and help the planet. Think about a few options: 1) Upcycling and turning the product into a new/different product 2) Recycling and repairing and reselling 3) Donating


1) In looking to real-time ways to mitigate and reduce Salida’s carbon footprint, transportation is a readily identifiable area to address. What initiatives might the community consider, and why, in its efforts to become carbon-neutral by 2030? 2) How can the community of Salida best encourage and incentivize property owners to convert commercial and residential properties to renewable energy sources? How do you do this affordably and efficiently? Develop a public utilities & building plan to help the city reach its goal of using 100% renewable energy by 2030.


Despite its high volume of public lands and natural surface trails, a large percentage of Mesa County residents do not engage in outdoor recreation. Pathways to Nature, a report funded by Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) and produced by Colorado Mesa University, cites time, cost, transportation, perception of safety, and quality of facilities as barriers. 

The challenge is to take the recommendations of the Pathways to Nature report and create an actionable plan for increasing outdoor recreation participation in a specific area of Mesa County that experiences significant social determinants of health challenges. Income, social connectedness, neighborhood, and built environment, health outcomes, and academic achievement are among the social determinants of health that should be considered when drafting an action plan. 


Create, for scale, a new comprehensive, sustainable, direct-to-consumer business market strategy/plan for the artisan, small-batch fly rod manufacturer. SaraBaraBella has had a strong direct-to-consumer plan for the past five years; at this juncture, we’re looking for unique ways to expand our reach so we can get our products in the hands or more/new anglers around the world. Yes, we like to stir things up, do things differently than our competitors, and make an impact along the way. 


Develop/source more sustainable packets for First Ascent’s single-serve coffee without compromising durability.

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 or reach out to Community Manager, Michael Clayton at for additional details.

What are the judging criteria?

The format will be a pitch competition with one elimination round to determine an overall champion. Participants will be judged on the following criteria:


  • Have you clearly articulated your understanding of the challenge area?
  • Have you presented an innovative solution that could change “business as usual” in the outdoor industry?
  • Is your problem-solving approach well-reasoned and thorough?


  • Is there tangible evidence the solution is on track (even initially) to solve their problem?
  • Is your solution economically viable and sustainable? 
    • Did you consider all possible costs and budgetary constraints?
    • Can your challenge partner feasibly enact your solution?
    • Are the materials and/or technology available at this time?
  • How well have you vetted your concept with potential partners, users, and/or customers?


  • How might your solution provide opportunities for job creation and/or workforce development/training (this could encompass new business development)?
  • How might your solution build foundational relationships within the communities your challenge partner resides?


  • Does your solution provide a comprehensive sustainability plan that: 
    • Utilizes environmentally friendly materials and processes;
    • Protects valuable resources for future generations; and
    • Provides tenable options for giving back to the community and public spaces 
  • Is your solution environmentally viable? Did you consider all possible risks?


  • Is your solution accessible to individuals encompassing a diverse set of backgrounds, abilities, and socioeconomic statuses?
  • How well does your team bring to bear a variety of disciplines (e.g. engineering, business, policy) to arrive at a well-rounded solution?
  • Does your solution provide a social benefit that previously didn’t exist in this geographic region?


  • Did you thoroughly and respectfully engage with their challenge partner? Did they utilize all necessary resources that were made available to them?
  • Did you engage with the local community while coming up with your solution?
  • Did you engage with the customers/users of your challenge partners business in order to build a targeted solution?
    How do I get involved?

    There are two steps:

    • One, please contact Community Manager, Michael Clayton, at by 2/21/20.
    • 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.
      Who are the participating institutions?
      How does my institution participate?

      If you are interested in competing in the 2021 competition as either a student, university, or challenge partner, please reach out to Community Manager, for additional details.