BENTONVILLE, Ark. — The University of Arkansas (U of A) is helping new entrepreneurs start their businesses through the Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program.
The program, nicknamed GORP, is helping Northwest Arkansas entrepreneurs with their start-up ideas in the outdoor recreation industry. Phil Shellhammer is the director of the program and says that the institution was looking for a way to help the community grow.
The Walton Family Foundation provided a three year grant for the program that Shellhammer says is to help the outdoor community grow.
"The reason why outdoor rec is such a big deal is because of what's going on in cycling, because of what our state does in outdoor recreation, whether it's camping, fishing, hunting," Shellhammer said. "The ability for us to then start to build these companies around here, the long-term benefit, the economic development for this benefit is huge."
According to Shellhammer, GORP can provide entrepreneurs with free resources to help them with their ideas up to launch. Twice a year, however, they pick a group of entrepreneurs to help extensively with a 12-week course of mentorship, provide potential interns and a seed grant of up to $15,000.
"We want to start stepping out and in helping entrepreneurs in our community," Shellhammer said. “The greenhouse is an umbrella program designed to help incubate new businesses in multiple different startup areas and then multiple different industries."
Morgan and Tyler Baumgardner own Encore Bike Rental & Delivery which was a part of GORP's first cohort of startups. Tyler explained the service as a personalized bike rental experience that meets riders at their trailhead or lodging. They're serving Benton County in 2022 but plan to expand to Washington County in the future.
"We actually drop the bikes off right at like the trailhead. We meet you and set up the bikes, make sure they fit you," Tyler said. "So everyone's getting kind of like a one-on-one experience."
The couple spent two and a half years traveling full-time in an RV. Tyler says Northwest Arkansas was a convenient stop between coasts, but that the couple instantly fell in love with the cycling community when they arrived in the area.
"It's probably one of the most welcoming that I've been a part of," he said. "You can almost like strike up a conversation with anyone.”
Tyler explained that the couple moved into their home in Arkansas in September. He said they started looking for bikes in October, the peak cycling season, but most shops were sold out. That's when the couple got the idea for a bike rental business.
It took the couple less than a year to start the business, and they credit GORP for a great launch.
"We had the idea and the bikes were like, Okay, we're just gonna start this whole bike rental business," Tyler said. "That really pushed us to like, do what we're doing now."
You can apply to become a GORP entrepreneur on the university's website.
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