Inspired by love of hiking, Wood develops custom backpacks

Thanks to resources like the Huff Family Innovation Center, IDEA Hub and nearly 200 expert faculty and staff in the STEM fields, the University of Wisconsin-Platteville is a hub of innovation and creativity, helping budding entrepreneurs – like senior Josh Wood – take their ideas from prototype to market. Wood, originally from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, has been prototyping a line of custom outdoor backpacks and officially launched his product to the public this week.

As a software engineering major, Wood said he never expected to be pursuing this business, but it was his passion for the outdoors and hiking that sparked his interest.

“I took a semester off my sophomore year and hiked the Appalachian Trail, and I fell in love with the hiking community,” said Wood. “So I want to give this a go and try to make it a career.”

After experimenting with different materials, Wood settled on ECOPAK – a 100% recycled polyester, laminated material. Wood said he selected it because it’s durable, ultralight and waterproof.

Wood initially experimented making backpacks with his own sewing machine but had difficulty sewing through thicker materials. Then, he learned about the resources in the newly-opened Huff Family Innovation Center, including the high-end sewing equipment and the laser cutters, which he uses to cut the fabric.

In addition to the Huff Family Innovation Center, Wood received support developing his business plan. He connected with the IDEA Hub, which helps faculty, students and community members turn ideas into startups. He also participated in last December’s WiSys Prototype Hackathon, held at UW-Platteville, in which he took home third place. The annual Hackathon engages students in designing a product prototype and demonstrating its commercial relevance.

“The Hackathon was so helpful that I don’t know if I’d still be doing this, if I hadn’t done that event,” said Wood. “I learned about identifying a target market and thinking about a lot of things I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.”

Wood has made more than a dozen backpacks so far, and with his website,, which launched this week, he is looking forward to seeing how his business may grow.

“If people have any interest in using equipment in [the Huff Family Innovation Center], they really should take advantage of it,” said Wood. “It’s all extremely expensive to access on your own. It’s a great resource to have and a lot of it doesn’t have a high barrier to entry.”