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2 Founders Just Donated Their Snowboard Business to a University: Here’s Why

Thanks to the co-founders of SnoPlanks, students at Oregon State University-Cascades will have the opportunity to help run an actual business and get real-world experience without leaving the classroom.

James Nicol one of the co-founders of SnoPlankJames Nicol one of the co-founders of SnoPlank; (photo/Mighty Creature Company)
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SnoPlanks, a skateboard and snowboard brand out of Bend, Ore., has always been a community-centric business. But soon, it will be a community-operated business as well.

“We’re kind of at a transition point where my business partner and I are moving on to some different things,” James Nicol, one of SnoPlanks’ co-founders, told GearJunkie. “We were looking at all the options on the table in terms of how we wanted the brand to exist moving forward within the community and within the industry.”

The option Nicol and co-founder Ryan Holmes landed on could have a huge impact on the outdoor industry. Instead of selling the brand, they’re handing it off to a new generation of outdoor industry entrepreneurs at Oregon State University-Cascades. It’s a gift they hope will give students real-world experience and that will operate like a living classroom for those seeking to enter the outdoor industry.

“We’re on this whole new path, and it’s going to be great for the brand,” Nicol said. “I think it’s going to bring a lot of new energy and ideas. And I think it’s going to be a really exciting path moving forward for SnoPlanks.”

Turning Their Business Into a Classroom

Nicol working on a SnoPlank in the Bend, Oregon shop
(Photo/Mighty Creature Company)

Nicol and Holmes founded SnoPlanks in 2012. They were handcrafting bamboo skateboards and snowboards, working hard to make a name for the budding brand. At the time, Nicol said he would have laughed at the idea of giving the business away.

“I wouldn’t have guessed this one,” he said, chuckling.

But eventually, after more than a decade of building SnoPlanks into what it is today, the two entrepreneurs were ready to pursue different paths. And they needed to figure out what to do with SnoPlanks. They didn’t just want to sell it to the highest bidder, walk away, and never look back. They wanted SnoPlanks to have a legacy. But they also wanted to retain some say in the direction of the business even after they left.

It seemed like a pipe dream, Nicol said. But then he had an idea.

He’d been speaking at the College of Entrepreneurship at OSU-Cascades for several years. He had a relationship with the faculty and the students. There was already a lot of interest at the college in SnoPlanks and what it was doing. Resumes frequently came across Nicol’s desk from OSU students who wanted a job with his brand.

He wondered: What if he and Holmes donated SnoPlanks to the college? What if students could get real-world experience with an established outdoor brand while they were still in class?

Nicol reached out to the college to pitch them on his grand idea. And they were into it.

“OSU has been incredible in terms of it trying to do everything they can to ensure that this is viable,” Nicol said. “It’s been a really fun process to work with them and try to outline exactly how this program is going to be laid out.”

Leaving a Legacy

Nicol working on a SnoPlank in the Bend, Oregon shop
Nicol is handing over his brand to Oregon State University-Cascades; (photo/Mighty Creature Company)

According to Nicol, Oregon State University-Cascades students will run the business 100% from the ground up.

“Every facet of the business will be managed and run by students,” he said. “They’re really going to be designing the brand, the product, how the brand is presented to the public, how it’s presented to the world.”

And Nicol is very excited to see what happens as a result — not just in terms of SnoPlanks, but throughout the industry as a whole.

“It creates a legacy for the brand in terms of effecting change within young minds and through education,” Nicol said. These students will essentially be walking out of college with the equivalent of internship experience already under their belts.

When asked what was in this deal for him, Nicol responded simply, “Legacy, goodwill, and community impact.”

The goal, he said, is to create something that lasts and has an impact on the future of the outdoor industry, potentially even the world.

“That’s what we’re we’re going to be looking at in 15, 20 years. We’ll be saying, ‘Wow, look at all these incredible brands that were built off of these dynamic students coming out of this program that exists in Bend, Oregon.'”

Without a doubt, the transition is going to be an emotional one for the founders. Nicol says that any time you step away from something that you’ve worked with so intensively, it’s bittersweet. But he sees this as the right move at the right time. And he’s eager to see how it all plays out in the coming years.

“It’s really a dream come true in a lot of ways because we get to put good back into the world,” Nicol said. “We’re just super grateful to have this be the path forward for the brand.”

The SnoPlanks website says that more details on this program are coming soon, and assures its loyal customers that it is “already working on the 2025 lineup.” So stay tuned.

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