CU’s outdoor partnerships reshaping industry norms


Three initiatives across the University of Colorado are working to serve the outdoor industry through collaborative efforts involving students, staff, faculty and key partners in the outdoor sector.

From new partnerships with Outside magazine to existing partnerships with Blister Labs and ecosystem builders like the Venture Attractor program, these dynamic alliances redefine the role of academic institutions, propelling Colorado's outdoor sector to unprecedented heights and creating opportunities for students and businesses alike.

CU’s outdoor partnerships reshaping industry norms

Blister Labs at CU Boulder

A leader in qualitative gear testing, Blister Labs, in partnership with CU Boulder and Western Colorado University, has been instrumental in revolutionizing long-term testing for skis, bikes, running shoes and technical apparel. This partnership creates a special offering by blending different testing approaches, including subjective and objective methods.

CU's commitment to reaching all corners of Colorado is exemplified through this partnership, actively engaging with students from Western Colorado University and fostering collaboration on multiple fronts. Notably, Blister Labs has supported numerous master’s and Ph.D. students, facilitated over 50 full-time paid engineering internships, published academic papers, and played a pivotal role in connecting students with internships at esteemed local outdoor organizations, such as Romp Skis.

The collaboration with Blister Labs is more than just a partnership; it's a fusion of qualitative experience and quantitative analysis. Collaborating closely with CU Boulder engineering faculty – including Greg VanderBeek, Travis Hainsworth, Jenifer Blacklock and Sean Humbert – as well as students from CU and Western Colorado University, Blister Labs is dedicated to addressing critical questions in the outdoor industry. From assessing the value of expensive mountain bike wheelsets to comparing in-field damping properties of different skis, Blister Labs is pioneering new tests and data collection methods.

“We are solving a real problem for outdoor ski companies,” Humbert said. “Even the biggest ski companies don’t have the capabilities to do quantitative gear testing. We can marry the quantitative data we can collect with the qualitative data that Blister provides, building out the capacity to help Colorado ski companies improve their products, building out in-house testing.”

This collaboration extends beyond the lab with the Blister Labs Summit and Sean Humbert's latest podcast. It calls enthusiasts worldwide to access independent testing data, showcasing CU’s active contribution to advancing Colorado’s outdoor industry and bridging academia with real-world applications.

CU’s outdoor partnerships reshaping industry norms

Colorado Springs Venture Attractor at UCCS

Nestled in the heart of Olympic City USA, UCCS is igniting the flames of outdoor entrepreneurship through the visionary Venture Attractor program, founded by Tom Duening.

Administered by the El Pomar Institute for Innovation and Commercialization (EPIIC), the Venture Attractor is instrumental in making Colorado Springs a vibrant hub for startup innovation in sports/outdoors, health innovation, and human performance clusters. Going beyond conventional funding, the Torch Grants program provides $50,000 nonequity grants to ventures in those clusters. The Venture Attractor awarded three Torch Grants in 2022 and two in 2023. To be eligible for a Torch Grant, ventures must first complete the Venture Attractor’s Scale to $1M Boot-Up Camp. During the Boot-Up Camp, ventures undergo a transformative journey through the practical phases of venture development, ensuring they develop a foundation for scaling.

In a strategic move to position Colorado Springs as a global destination for startups, the Venture Attractor concentrates on specific clusters. Originally focused on the unique sports cluster in Colorado Springs, the Venture Attractor will be expanding its reach to include aerospace and proptech ventures in its 2024 cohort. Beyond its local impact, the program is designed to attract top entrepreneurs to the Colorado Springs area. The Venture Attractor fosters an innovative ecosystem that goes beyond financial support, creating a supportive environment for entrepreneurs. Through its unique blend of financial backing, mentorship and focus, the Venture Attractor at UCCS is positioning Colorado Springs as the premier destination for those seeking to make significant strides in the outdoor industry and beyond.

CU’s outdoor partnerships reshaping industry norms

The Outside Lab at CU Denver

New, cutting-edge innovation initiatives continue to emerge, like the Outside Lab at CU Denver's College of Engineering, Design and Computing, led by Dan Griner and Dana Carpenter. Set to open in 2024, this cutting-edge innovation lab invites passionate individuals to become founding members dedicated to developing and testing outdoor gear. Administered by CU Denver, the lab’s mission is to increase outdoor participation by enhancing the comfort, safety and accessibility of future gear. SVP Jon Dorn emphasizes the goal of elevating product performance through controlled lab testing, complemented by media faculty and students contributing to storytelling and marketing efforts. This collaborative effort aims to provide advanced testing capabilities while publishing sophisticated reviews that guide outdoor enthusiasts to the best gear.

The Outside Lab is not just a space for technical innovation; it's a collaborative hub where product development meets effective marketing strategies. By involving media faculty and students, CU Denver ensures that the innovations emerging from the lab receive the attention they deserve. This holistic approach, combining engineering prowess with strategic storytelling, positions the Outside Lab as a catalyst for transformative ideas in Colorado’s outdoor industry.

Together, these strategic alliances involving CU Boulder, Western Colorado University, UCCS and CU Denver transcend the conventional role of academic institutions. Collaborating with Blister Labs, the Outside Lab and the Torch Grants and Venture Attractor programs, these institutions actively contribute to the academic landscape while creating opportunities for students and nurturing Colorado businesses.

These strategic alliances not only contribute to the academic landscape but actively create opportunities for students and nurture Colorado businesses from startup to scale. By serving as incubators for student talent and providing hands-on experiences, these initiatives play a pivotal role in shaping the economic future of the region. These programs actively steer and assist Colorado businesses at every stage of their journey, ensuring that the majestic Rocky Mountains thrive as an exciting playground for outdoor enthusiasts and forward-thinking entrepreneurs.

Gear up with students, faculty and staff to learn more or participate yourself, joining the journey to explore, learn and actively contribute to the transformative impact these programs are creating for individuals and the broader Colorado business community.

  • Submitted by the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative, Office of Academic Affairs