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Why This Entrepreneur Left Nike to Found a Startup With VF to Fight Climate Change

Innovation is Isaiah Steinfeld’s bread and butter. The serial entrepreneur has been in the startup and development space for over a decade, holding positions across innovation labs such as Neon Giant and most recently Nike’s Valiant Labs.

Now, Steinfeld is working on a new venture with VF Venture Foundry, the startup incubating arm of VF Corp., which is the parent company for The North Face, Vans, Supreme and Timberland, among others. The Denver-based program encourages founders and entrepreneurs to develop and launch startups with capital from the company. VF has invested in Steinfeld’s Foundry project, a platform called Wild Scout that helps parents discover unique outdoor experiences for their kids. 

In addition to encouraging awareness for climate change, Steinfeld hopes his project will expand access to outdoor activities for people of color and underrepresented communities. As a Filipino, Steinfeld noted that these groups are on average less likely to engage in such activities. 

“The mission is to bring more awareness to climate change while helping to create equitable access to the outdoors,” Steinfeld told Footwear News in an interview. 

Before being approached by Venture Foundry, Steinfeld was working at Nike as the global senior director of advanced innovation in Valiant Labs, Nike’s in-house incubation arm. He had served in other entrepreneurial roles at the Swoosh since 2017. His decision to finally leave the brand in December 2020 was prompted by a variety of internal changes. He also wanted to try something new amid a global pandemic.

“COVID exposed a lot of different inequalities and breaks in our system that I guess were kind of upheld by motion,” Steinfeld said.

Having recently finished a variety of different projects at Nike, the entrepreneur found himself at a crossroads. To start a new project at Nike, which was undergoing a major internal reorganization under new CEO John Donahoe, would likely mean another years-long stretch before anything could be completed. It would also mean committing to more years of a corporate-style startup mentality, which often takes more time and includes more rigorous testing and research methods.

“I was like, OK, I can either leave now and go back to my more traditional startup path that I had been focused on, making an impact in an area that I felt was incredibly important that I wouldn’t be able to do inside of a company like Nike, or commit to staying in corporate innovation,” he said.

He took the leap and is now the sole team member working on Wild Scout. The venture is not currently associated or partnered with any VF brands, but Steinfeld said there could be chances to leverage relationships with some of VF’s outdoor-focused brands such as The North Face and Vans in the future, if goals and benefits align.

For now, Wild Scout is still in the concept and product development stage, but will ultimately go through the traditional funding steps of a startup. This model, Steinfeld said, speaks to the benefits and freedoms of working with Venture Foundry.

“When looking at the work that I’m currently doing and where we’re at, it’s no different than what I would be doing externally,” he said.

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