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Salt Lake outdoor gear company crushes Kickstarter goal for modular backpack system

SALT LAKE CITY — The work of growing his first company compelled Cavin Nicholson to spend extended periods of time on the road, living out of a bag.

That reality, born of necessity, ended up becoming the inspiration for the first product in his second entrepreneurial effort.

"The idea for the Prima System pack really sprang from the kind of lifestyles my partners and I had been living," Nicholson said. "I'd been spending about six months a year traveling and realized I needed a single backpack solution that did it all."

Now, six prototypes and 18 months later, Nicholson and partners Brandon Gonsalves and Brad Meyer are ready to enter the world of high-tech outdoor gear production in a big way.

And a Kickstarter campaign that was aiming to raise $60,000 to get Boundary off the ground has taken an unexpected turn.

"We were really looking to get a modest amount of seed money to begin production," Nicholson said.

The trio's effort through the online fundraising tool instead has brought in a windfall, with more than $650,000 from nearly 3,000 individual backers — many of whom ponied up $189 to be among the first to sling the company's new pack over their shoulders.

Nicholson said he learned a lot from his first foray into business, a clothing company called Coalatree Organics that was based in Colorado but had most of its employees in Utah. He also found success, with revenues eventually topping $1 million annually, but ultimately wasn't satisfied with the experience.

"We just got tired of the stale routine of the business," Nicholson said. "I was going to trade shows, had these awesome products, but was constantly hearing from sales reps and retail outlets that, 'If you just drop your price another 10 percent, we can really start selling this stuff.'

"That's pretty much how retail treats manufacturers," he said, "… and it just got old."

So Nicholson sold the business and decided to go back to school. And thanks to some opportune connections and access to specialty equipment available at the University of Utah's Lassonde Entrepreneurship Institute's workspace, he was back on the startup trail.

"The networking and availability of things like laser cutting machines and other equipment … all the stuff a DIY effort needed, was right there," Nicholson said. "It was critical to bringing this together."

And what came together is a unique, modular backpack system that consists of a 25-liter backpack that can expand to 30 liters; a takeaway bag called the Verge Case that can accommodate camera equipment or other smaller items; and a padded and weatherproof Fieldspace sleeve that can hold a laptop or tablet computer and accessories.

All the components fit together inside the pack, which is constructed of high-tech, weather-resistant fabric and secured with magnetic catches.

Thomas Ricker, a reviewer on tech website The Verge, gave the bag a real-world workout and lauded Boundary's success at creating a truly versatile, all-in-one pack.

"Modular design is often a great idea that's let down by execution," Ricker said. "I can't say that about the Boundary system. The decision to make both the camera bag and laptop sleeve removable creates a truly adaptable bag."

Nicholson and company also got top reviews from Lassonde Entrepreneurship Institute Executive Director Troy D'Ambrosio.

“We have been very impressed with what students are creating at Lassonde Studios,” D'Ambrosio said. “Boundary backpacks is a great example of the innovation happening here.

"Students are using all the resources we offer to create new products, launch companies and make a difference in the world. We provide prototyping tools, startup offices, grants, workshops and a lot more. And all students on campus are welcome to participate,” he said.

There were two takeaways from Nicholson's sojourn with Coalatree, he said, to the work he began at Lassonde: Sell directly to customers, and make sustainability a top priority.

To those ends, Boundary will be operating as a direct-to-customer company, with plans for other products already underway.

And they've committed to using the Bluesign system, a third-party assessment company that ensures textile products are produced in an environmentally friendly and sustainable manner. The assessment also includes certifying occupational safety and health in manufacturing facilities.

Nicholson said while the decision to become a Bluesign partner is not the cheapest route, it's one that has more meaning for him and his partners.

"The Bluesign system is a way to certify, from fiber creation to actual delivery, that things are being done in a sustainable manner," he said. "These things matter to us, and they matter to our customers. Going direct to consumers helps allow us to do it."

As for the immensely successful Kickstarter campaign, Nicholson said it will serve to allow Boundary to grow at a higher rate than anticipated. And the partners see it as confirmation that they made the right decisions about Boundary's near- and long-term priorities.

"This helps confirm that we may have found the right balance between refusing to compromise and creating dream products at a valid level," Nicholson said. "Within five to 10 years, we would love to be able to look back and go, 'Wow. Boundary is competing with SmartWool and Patagonia and North Face, and it all started here.'"