U of A Business Incubator Helps Northwest Arkansas Transplants Launch Startup
Morgan Baumgardner (far right) and her husband, Tyler Baumgardner, established Encore Bike Rentals after settling in Northwest Arkansas in 2021. Their startup aims to help residents "ride like a local" on the region's trails.
BELLA VISTA, Ark. – An impromptu visit last year to Northwest Arkansas for an enterprising young couple led to the formation of Encore Bike Rentals, a burgeoning startup focused on helping residents "ride like a local" on the region's trails.
Morgan and Tyler Baumgardner were traveling the country in an RV when Morgan's mother sent her a link about the sprawling trails system in Benton and Washington counties.
They arrived in July 2021 and "didn't want to leave," Morgan Baumgardner said.
But when family came to visit, they had difficulty renting a bike for the trails. Having established a marketing firm two years earlier, the Baumgarnders thought they might have a solution to improving access to the trails.
Enter GORP, or the Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program. Led by the U of A Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, GORP supports startups with workshop training, team mentoring and dedicated product/service development to help them scale globally. The program also provides up to $15,000 in "non-dilutive seed funding" per company — funding that doesn't require the owner to give up equity in the company.
The Baumgardners joined the initial GORP cohort in January with their startup in the launch stage. The company had a website but hadn't rented a single bike.
Now, just months after graduating from the 12-week course, high-quality mountain bikes are available for rent in three cities via concierge service. Encore Bike Rentals will deliver (and pickup) their bikes for free to the trail head, hotels, vacation rentals and other spots in Bella Vista, Bentonville and Rogers.
Morgan Baumgardner said GORP pushed the company to "think beyond" bike rentals while the program's mentors challenged the couple to determine what kind impact they wanted to make.
"If any business or startup wants to grow or be pushed to the next phase of business, GORP will help do that," Morgan Baumgardner said.
She added that the communal experience of GORP — sharing the entrepreneurial journey — was beneficial as well.
"Being around other growing companies was really great (and) helped the journey not be so lonely," Morgan Baumgardner said.
GORP's assets, which include mentoring, workshops and ongoing ASBTDC business consultation, will aid Encore Bike Rentals despite the company finishing the program, because GORP is designed to support entrepreneurs before, during and after the cohort with a steady stream of speakers, workshops and connections to industry experts, said Phil Shellhammer, GORP's director.
"Businesses like Encore will continue to fuel the strong tourism industry that NWA is growing around the amazing outdoor recreation experiences you can have here," Shellhammer said.
About the U of A Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation: The Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation creates and curates innovation and entrepreneurship experiences for students across all disciplines. Through the Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Hub, McMillon Innovation Studio and Startup Village, OEI provides free workshops and programs — including social and corporate innovation design teams, venture internships, competitions and startup coaching. OEI also offers on-demand support for students who will be innovators within existing organizations and entrepreneurs who start something new.
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