BYU alumn’s company works to strengthen communities around the world

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Davis Smith speaks to a crowd at Salt Lake City Questival while holding his son Rockwell. (Mat Kestle)

Davis Smith knew in college that he wanted to start something to give back. Inspired by a BYU professor and philanthropist while doing his undergrad at BYU, he was convinced that he could make a difference in the world through entrepreneurship.

After 10 years of building businesses and gaining entrepreneurship experience, Smith launched Cotopaxi

Cotopaxi is an outdoor adventure gear maker that doesn’t just focus on selling products — it also works to build values that impact the world and create inspiring opportunities to do good.

“We integrate the mission in everything we do,” Smith said. He shared that his mission was never to sell outdoor gear, rather, it was to move people to do good and inspire adventure.

Cotopaxi team members travel all over the world, finding communities and people to work with. For example, Cotopaxi photographer Mat Kestle and a group of volunteers — Josh Deiss, Meg Tiritilli and Katie Rodriguez — recently went to Colombia to meet with locals.

Providing experiences like these is one way the company tries to appeal to younger generations.

“I wanted to launch the brand in a different way,” Smith said. “I knew if I wanted to create a brand to connect with millennials and Gen Z consumers, that I had to build something more than just selling things. It had to stand for something; it had to have these values, and I wanted people to be able to go live the values, to go experience them.”

Smith grew up in Puerto Rico and spent a portion of his life moving around Latin America. He then met and married his wife, Asialene. He and his wife lived in Peru and in Brazil with their two oldest kids, who are now 16 and 13 years old. They then moved to Utah and had two more kids, ages four and one.

Cotapaxi founder and CEO Davis Smith and his family now live in Utah. (Courtesy of Davis Smith)

Smith said travel has and always will be a big part of his life, and living abroad helped him generate ideas for incorporating service and experience within his company.

Inspiration for accomplishing Cotopaxi’s mission, “do good,” stemmed from an activity Smith created in grad school at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Smith and his classmate created an activity called the Culture Quest for classmates to get out and have an adventure experience. 

The first Culture Quest Smith created was a race from Belize to Panama. Along the way participants did activities like crossing borders on foot and performing service in the communities. This became so successful that the business school has continued the Culture Quest every year since. 

This event inspired Smith to create the Cotopaxi Questival — a 24-hour adventure race now held in cities throughout the world for participants to engage in fun activities and acts of service — in Utah during April 2014.

Paul Thorsen, a BYU computer science student, participated in a 2017 Questival held in Utah and said he enjoyed the experience.

“It was fun to be creative with a lot of the challenges and share those ideas with your team,” Thorsen said.

He said the best part of the Questival was the random activities with friends and growing closer and sharing fun memories with them.

Other students like Jess Davis, a BYU marketing management student, talked about the challenges her group did.

“There are outdoorsy challenges like hiking and camping, food ones, service-based ones like visiting an old-folks home and funny ones like challenging a stranger to a dance battle,” Davis said. Her favorite part about Questival was bonding with friends and exploring Utah.

Besides lasting memories, each Questival participant gets a Cotopaxi backpack for signing up. Making the backpacks is outsourced to provide jobs to low-income individuals in other countries. Smith said the company work with a lot of refugees, giving many their first job. 

Not only does Cotopaxi provide jobs, but they also make sure the workers are paid good wages and treated fairly. Smith shared an example of a Philippine factory that Cotapaxi outsources backpack production to where this is put in practice.

He said that in addition to giving funds to the factory, Cotopaxi gives money straight to the workers so they get to decide where to use the funds. Cotopaxi also provides an after-school program for workers’ kids where they can learn how to use computers and an English class for workers.

Smith emphasized that each Cotapaxi product has an embedded story and that when people purchase Cotopaxi products they get to be a part of the story and share it with others.

In marketing Cotopaxi for a younger generation, Smith said it is best to “empower people to tell stories themselves.”

BYU pre-mechanical engineering student Thomas Lundquist had the opportunity to do just that at the Salt Lake City Questival Oktoberquest on Oct. 18. He joined with friends and cousins on a team participating in the challenges.

“It honestly kind of just reminds me of the movie ‘Up.’ It really kind of makes you realize that adventure is out there,” Lundquist said. “There’s so much good to be done and fun to be had, and it makes you realize that it’s possible to do good and have fun all the time.”

Cotopaxi from the beginning has always had a deeply rooted purpose in moving people to do good and alleviate poverty. Smith said this is his passion and it’s built into the brand. He hopes to keep expanding products and be the next big outdoor brand centered on changing the world.

“I think that that’s a big part of our purpose here on earth, is to discover the talents we were given and to figure out how to use those to help others,” Smith said.

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