On January 15th, I joined a meeting of orienteering entrepreneurs to share about our businesses.
Jeff Teutsch (https://navigationsports.ca) does coaching, consulting and cartography, and is the High Performance Director for Orienteering Canada. Eric Teutsch started the O Store (https://www.o-store.ca/) in order to provide North America with a SPORTIdent service provider, and expanded to gear and clothing. Anne Teutsch serves on the board of Orienteering Canada and does race organization for local meets and championship events in Canada. Patrick Nuss works for MerGeo (http://mergeo.com/), though he’s on furlough now due to COVID-19 and working as a stay-at-home dad. Greg Ahlswede (https://www.athletebiz.us/greg-ahlswede) is on the US orienteering team. He lives in Scranton, PA where he works as a translator, trains, and does remote LIDAR-based map-making. David Bakker (https://davidbakker.ca/mapping-services/) is a Canadian map-maker; he’s been making maps full time during the summer as well as part-time during the school year. Erin Schirm (https://findadventuresport.com/) teaches orienteering to adults on the autism spectrum, and has a number of other projects going. Erin and Greg are former Orienteering USA coaches, and are developing an orienteering coaching and development business. Their customers might include OUSA and JROTC groups. There are a couple of other folks who couldn't make the call, including Andrea Schneider (http://www.iknowmyway.org/), and Chris Gkikas (https://northlinenavigation.com/).
Greg talked about a vision in which a new club could get started easily, overcoming typical cost barriers to entry by using inexpensive computer-generated maps and phone apps for control check-in instead of an expensive timing system. You still would need an experienced orienteer to design courses. Greg feels that with the new technologies, and the context of the pandemic, we’re on the precipice of seeing an explosion in interest in orienteering. Greg’s ideas resonated strongly with me, because Navigation Games has been talking with a number of Parks and Recreation departments who are very eager to create more outdoor programming. One example is Newton Recreation: they paid to have real orienteering maps made; partnered with scouts and NEOC to create permanent courses; and partnered with Navigation Games to create classes for their residents to learn about orienteering. Other towns may not have the mapping budget to create real orienteering maps, but could get started with computer-generated maps.
I talked about Navigation Games’ vision of orienteering taught in Physical Education in all schools. The barriers are having maps, but above all, teachers do not know how to teach orienteering. We have developed progressions of games and activities that work well with elementary school children, in addition to more traditional orienteering games for older kids. We have been offering our services to do professional development and co-teaching (as well as procuring maps). I’m working on the next generation of our offering, which will be a package that includes materials (lesson plans, maps, printed activity maps and other materials), lesson plans, professional development, and teaching demonstration classes.
For both Greg’s vision of easily starting a new club, and Navigation Games’ vision of setting up a school district with everything needed to implement an orienteering curriculum, there is a common thread: reducing the barrier to entry for orienteering.
We had a discussion about how proactive to be in creating the customer base. The Canadian mappers have plenty of work already. However, the group did see value in intentional outreach to school districts, towns, or trail runners (depending on the target audience). We talked about various attempts to get trail runners to “cross over” to orienteering. So far, MerGeo has been able to attract trail runners to events that have both trail running and orienteering, but those folks do not tend to then jump over to orienteering clubs’ events. Jeff’s orienteering club has built good relationships over several years with local running clubs, who put orienteering races on their calendar.
Jeff and Anne talked about a missing element in the sport of orienteering: teaching. In other sports, you can take lessons to learn about it as a beginner, and to work on your skills.
Erin described a two-tier approach. First, bring orienteering to kids where they are, typically at schools. You can get a lot of involvement in that way; for example, he had 50-60 kids at a program he ran at a school. But when he moved the program to a nearby park, he lost most of the participants. The lesson he learned was that you keep the school programs going, and then in parallel build a program for the smaller number of kids who want to participate at a higher level.
I’m looking forward to talking more about kids’ programs with this group. Erin said he didn’t see the dream of hundreds of kids doing orienteering really happening; there are too many competing sports. That got me wondering about how to exist in a kid’s life in parallel with sports, or how to attract kids who do not traditionally do sports. Anyway, I’m excited to continue the conversation!