4 Complete the UA Business Program

BENTONVILLE — The first cohort of the Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program, a business incubator focused on outdoor recreation entrepreneurs, graduated in late April, and participants say the program boosted their chances of success from the start.

The University of Arkansas Fayetteville’s Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation’s new program, known as GORP, targets start-up companies from initial concept to launch. During the 12-week program, founders of four Northwestern Arkansas companies participated in workshops, were assigned mentors, shared co-working spaces at the Collaborative – the education center and UA Research Center in Bentonville – and received one-on-one service and product design input.

“We had a basic idea, GORP helped us think bigger,” said Tyler Baumgardner, who, with his wife Morgan, founded Encore Bike Rentals. “GORP came in and started pushing us.”

Encore Bikes rents bikes – including mountain bikes and e-bikes – through a concierge service to cyclists in Bella Vista, Bentonville and Rogers through online booking and book [and picks up] bikes directly to a trailhead, vacation rentals and other locations. The mountain biking couple got the idea when family came to visit and they struggled to find bikes to take advantage of the area’s trails.

Phil Shellhammer, the director of the GORP project, said this is one of the key aspects of the program – developing a product or service that solves a problem. He said that many would-be entrepreneurs have great ideas, but to be successful, the concept must meet a real customer need.

Shellhammer said the first cohort of GORP had a good mix of companies focused on both products, services and experience improvement, many with digital elements. Members of the pilot cohort received up to $15,000 in funding that did not require them to give up company capital, as well as the use of a fully funded intern through the university’s Venture Intern program . A $4.1 million donation from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation helps sustain the incubator.

Shellhammer said the application process for the next cohort of GORP will begin in mid-June and the program will begin in August.

Nick Olano co-founded American Hunt with Justin Conner and Jared Edwards. American Hunt helps outdoor enthusiasts access otherwise inaccessible lands for activities such as hunting, fishing, archery and camping. American Hunt is a two-sided marketplace, connecting landowners with people who want access to that land for everyday use.

Olano said the incubator, through access to mentors, helped him focus his attention on the key aspects of his business, and the peer-to-peer aspects of working with people also building businesses focused on outside were motivating.

“It’s like a fire hose of knowledge,” Olano said of the experience. “It made our plan more 100% viable.”

He said the funding and help from a paid intern took a lot of the pressure off him.

According to the Outdoor Industry Association, a trade group, in 2020, Arkansas’ outdoor economy was responsible for 37,089 direct jobs, $1.5 billion in wages and salaries, and a 2 .2% of the state’s gross domestic product. Nationally, there were 4.3 million direct jobs attributed to the outdoor economy for the same period and the segment generated $689 billion in consumer spending.

Jeff Amerine, Founder and Managing Director of Startup Junkie Consulting, was one of the GORP cohort speakers. He said the outdoor recreation segment encompasses many types of businesses, from service providers to product manufacturers, as evidenced by the composition of the first cohort of GORP.

He said the band members were both tenacious and coachable and eager to learn and apply what they learned to their various businesses.

Amerine also praised Shellhammer’s leadership, noting his credentials, including an MBA from Harvard Business School, a stint as vice president of Sam’s Club, and experience as a serial entrepreneur.

“Phil was precisely the guy to do that,” he said.

Mark Marsiglio and Erica Schmitz are the co-founders of Trail Tours, a GPS-enabled mountain biking app that offers guided tours of area bike trails by a local expert. Marsiglio said the app provides audio snippets giving the rider vital information about upcoming features, option lines, hazards and turns.

“Our slogan is ride like a local,” Marsiglio said.

He said the GORP program connected him with a broad base of other entrepreneurs who provided him with a variety of vital information. He said the peer-to-peer aspect of the cohort, with its small size and focus on outdoor businesses, helped him identify the best outcomes for the fledgling business.

“The connections have been huge,” Marsiglio said.

He said that after the 12-week program, he had a clear idea of ​​where his business was and where it could grow. He noted at the end of the course that he already had a year-long to-do list in hand.

“I have a lot more clarity on my path forward,” Marsiglio said.

Bentonville-based Lacaida Ropes, founded by Pedro Somarriba, produces locally made ropes with custom designs and prints for rock climbing. He said GORP helped him start the patent process for one of his rope offerings and automate his rope manufacturing process and secure investors.

He credited the program with moving his business forward faster and on a sustainable and scalable path. He said the mentors he met along the way, his fellow cohort business owners and the guidance he received from Shellhammer were invaluable.

But one of the most important lessons, he said, was about himself.

“I discovered that I had an entrepreneurial spirit,” Somarriba said.

Phil Shellhammer, Director of GORP, (left to right) watches as Morgan Baumgardner and Tyler Baumgardner present their company Encore Bike Rentals, Thursday, April 21, 2022 at the Bentonville Collective Greenhouse in Bentonville. See nwaonline.com/220423Daily/ and nwadg.com/photos for a photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)

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