GORP kicks off 5th outdoor recreation incubator

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 940 views 

The Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program (GORP) has launched its spring startup incubator with eight Northwest Arkansas startups, including those that rent outdoor gear and make quivers, according to a Jan. 24 news release.

GORP is a business incubation program led by the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation (OEI) at the University of Arkansas. GORP is focused on helping outdoor recreation startups and is based at the Collaborative in Bentonville. GORP is supported by a $4.1 million gift from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation.

Semiannually, GORP has offered 12-week business incubators for early-stage outdoor recreation startups. The incubator offers workshop training, team mentoring and product and service development to help them scale. GORP provides up to $15,000 in non-dilutive seed money per startup. It’s money that doesn’t require the owner to give up equity in the company.

“We have a great mix of unique founders with unique backgrounds coming together to build some very unique businesses,” said Phil Shellhammer, OEI’s senior director of business incubation. “As in the past, we have a wide range of outdoor recreation activities represented as well as three major business categories found in our industry: product, service and digital solutions.”

Like in the incubator this past fall, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission will sponsor two companies offering products and services for hunters and anglers. The companies are Bella Vista-based Big Sky Rentals and Lowell-based Osage Creek Camps. Big Sky Rentals is led by Jay Benjamin, Bob Dudzinski and Tyler McKay and rents and ships outdoor gear to customers. Osage Creek Camps was founded by Stephen and Caroline Lonon and provides youth training in fly fishing and conservation.

“Their passion for the outdoors and relationship with the outdoor industry make them a natural partner for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission as we work toward a shared goal of connecting Arkansans to the outdoors,” AGFC Director Austin Booth said.

He said the two companies provide opportunities for people to hunt and fish in Arkansas “without facing a steep financial barrier. As we continue to see more Arkansans with a desire to connect with wild places and wild things, removing barriers to entry is a critical step to help these people enjoy those experiences.”

Following are the six other startups in the incubator:
• Fayetteville-based Backcountry Quiver, founded by Rick Spicer, sells handmade quivers for bowhunters and archers.

• Bentonville-based First Season Outdoor, led by Mason McClelland and Corey Campbell, provides memberships offering access to gear, community and support.

• Rogers-based Foresight Engineering, led by Colin Shaw and Maghan Shaw, builds rifle scopes that improve shot placement and reduce ethical, operational and legal risks.

• Bentonville-based Rosie Up, founded by Paige Onweller, aims to create a supportive and safe environment for women cyclists and to build confidence, skills and community to empower women to ride or race on gravel.

• Fayetteville-based Slow Southern Steel, founded by Jesse Turner, handmakes bicycles for adventure seekers.

• Bentonville-based Tread Medics, led by Ernie Lechuga and Randy Bowers, is a bicycle tire repair company specializing in tread repair and focused on keeping bicycle tubes and tires in operation and out of landfills.

The spring incubator started Tuesday (Jan. 23) and runs through April 16. The incubator is GORP’s fifth. The first took place in spring 2022.

In the past two years, 25 startups have expanded their businesses through the incubators. GORP also has supported more than 300 entrepreneurs through its a la carte services, including workshops, networking events, one-on-one consulting and access to co-working space.