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Nike Innovation Strategy: The story behind Nike N7

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Nike is an athletic apparel company, founded in 1964, and is best recognized for its footwear, clothes, and equipment.

How Sam McCracken’s idea led to the development of the Nike N7 line of products?

For Sam McCracken, community always came first. A citizen of the Sioux and Assiniboine Tribes, Sam was working in a Nike distribution center in Oregon in 1999 when he had an idea. 

He said to himself, “I work for the biggest sports company in the world. I must be able to do something in my role at Nike to help my community.

During that time, Sam’s community, like many Native American communities, was battling epidemic levels of diabetes. There was also a personal reason for Sam. His own mother died of complications from type 2 diabetes. 

Sam proposed a plan for helping Indigenous communities improve health and wellness through physical activity. He started working with leaders in his community to promote healthy lifestyles by organizing events – such as fun runs and walks. He also arranged to provide free or discounted Nike products to incentivize people to take part.

As he saw the momentum around this project grow, he began to share his story with others at Nike. Sam’s energy was infectious and a team of Nike designers offered to help create products in line with Sam’s vision. The result was Nike N7 – a line of products – including the Nike Air N7 Native shoe – embodying the sustainability values of Native American communities, encouraging kids to get active.

The N7 line, since its inception in 2009, has generated millions of dollars for hundreds of indigenous organizations through the N7 Fund. The fund has awarded $5.6 million in grants to 243 communities and organizations, reaching more than 420,000 youth.

“I have always looked to my culture to remind myself of what is most important. The authentic connection I have to the belief is that we must consider the impact of all of our decisions on the next seven generations. This is what shaped the concept for Nike N7.” – Sam McCracken

Today, Sam is general manager and founder of Nike N7, a division dedicated to supporting Indigenous youth and encouraging them to get active, and he serves as vice chair for the board of the Center for Native American Youth.

Sam has helped form partnerships between Nike and the Indian Health Service to expand access to sports in tribal communities. He was appointed by President Barack Obama to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Advisory Council on Indian Education in 2010 and has received a slew of awards as a business and sports leader. In early 2022, he was honored by the World Economic Forum as the Schwab Foundation’s Social Intrapreneur of the Year.

Sam is one of the many intrapreneurs who made a huge change to the environment around him and his community. In our view, he shares the spotlight with Myriam Sidibe, Nitin Prajanpe, Mr. Sivakumar, George Swenson, and countless others whose efforts changed the fortunes of their organization. Want to know more about all those intrapreneurs? Read about them in our Power of innovation ebook, available for free. You can download the book here – Power of employee Innovation

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