Sep 15, 2022 - Business

First-time event lures outdoor rec industry to Arkansas

A woman shows off a pair of pants.

Georgia Grace Edwards, CEO and co-founder of SheFly, shows off her innovation in technical pants made for women. Photo: Worth Sparkman/Axios

The Natural State wants to capitalize on the "natural" part of its nickname, and continue to tap into a multibillion-dollar industry — outdoor recreation.

What happened: A summit for outdoor rec convened startups, investors and corporations looking to back Bentonville on Wednesday.

  • It was the first-ever "Innovation in Outdoor Recreation Showcase," hosted by Plug and Play Tech Center, a venture capital and networking firm that connects entrepreneurs to investors.

Why it matters: A healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem in outdoor recreation can help sustain and further develop Arkansas' economy by creating jobs, elevating standards of living and supporting other businesses.

  • Yes, and: The industry is in growth mode. The outdoor recreation economy accounted for $374.3 billion of U.S. GDP in 2020. Industry experts in the room agreed the market will continue on its upward trajectory.

Details: Speakers with tenure working at places like Patagonia and REI or those running VC funds talked about their experiences in the outdoor recreation industry to about 150 entrepreneurs and investors.

  • Katherine Andrews, director of the Office of Outdoor Recreation at the state's tourism department made a case for entrepreneurs to plant their businesses in Arkansas.
  • Then, startups had a chance to network and meet potential investors.
  • 17 entrepreneurs showed off products, from women-specific hiking pants to apps designed to connect women of color with outdoor adventures.

Altangle Cycling makes heavy-duty aluminum bike stands that fold up for easy travel. CEO Scott Smith told Axios he just relocated his business and family from Houston, Texas, to NWA because he recognized this area as a future hub for the outdoor recreation industry.

What they're saying: Will Decker, Plug and Play vice president, said the event looked like a success because people were making connections and talking passionately about the industry.

  • "We'll see in a few months," he said about any deals being made this week.

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