Feb 10, 2022 - Business

U of A's outdoor recreation incubator kicks off with local startups

Illustration of a tent made out of money.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

The University of Arkansas is helping entrepreneurs capitalize on the Natural State.

What's happening: Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program (GORP) revealed its first cohort of startup companies yesterday.

  • Four local startups began the three-month incubator program last week. All of them focus on products or services to be used outside.

Why it matters: Entrepreneurship in the outdoor recreation industry is burgeoning in NWA. Helping to build a hub of businesses here taps into the expertise at the University of Arkansas' Walton College of Business and capitalizes on Arkansas' natural resources.

Flashback: GORP launched last year at the Collaborative, a U of A location in Bentonville.

  • At the time, a national search was underway for a leader.
  • Enter Phil Shellhammer, a former corporate Sam's Club employee-turned-entrepreneur. He began as director of the program in late October.

How it works: Startups in the cohort receive training through weekly workshops, team mentoring and dedicated product or service development to help them scale. As participants, they're eligible to receive up to $15,000 in seed funding from the U of A.

State of play: GORP's first cohort represents an eclectic mix of ideas for outdoor recreation:

  • American Hunt Inc. of Fayetteville is connecting landowners with outdoor enthusiasts for short-term rentals and guided services to make more land accessible for sporting. Sort of like a VRBO for hunters.
  • Encore Bike Rentals of Bella Vista provides a pick-up and delivery concierge bike rental service, specializing in electric mountain bikes in Benton County.
  • Lacaida Ropes of Bentonville makes climbing ropes with custom designs.
  • Trail Tours LLC of Bentonville is a mountain-biking app that provides guided audio tours of trails — as well as tips on upcoming twists, turns, bridges and bumps — from a local expert.

What they're saying: Shellhammer told Axios there are "tens of companies" doing work in the outdoor recreation space located in NWA. Many of them could potentially qualify for upcoming cohorts.

What's next: As with most incubator formats, the four startups will have some sort of coming-out party at the end of the program, usually a pitch to potential investors.

  • Shellhammer said he's still working on a concept that's right for GORP participants.

Yes, and: There will eventually be two other incubator tracks at GORP, one for biodesign and one related to technology and software.

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