Third GORP Cohort Sees Business Transformation Through Customer Discovery

The founders in third cohort of the Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program wrapped the spring 2023 semester with a demo night at the U of A Collaborative in Bentonville.
Brandon Howard

The founders in third cohort of the Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program wrapped the spring 2023 semester with a demo night at the U of A Collaborative in Bentonville.

BENTONVILLE, Ark. – The third cohort of the university's outdoor recreation incubator featured two companies that pivoted from their original proposal, a milestone that was long awaited by the program's director. 

It was an exciting moment for the spring 2023 cohort because the companies were responding to the foundational aspects of the Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program, according to Phil Shellhammer, who oversees GORP. 

By parsing the data culled from customer discovery, the companies were able to refocus and pursue new directions that could help them flourish.  

The companies harnessed "the insights enough to say, 'what I'm working on right now …  isn't right,'" Shellhammer said, "but through that learning, 'I've learned this other problem or solution is better to focus on, and this is the path that I want go down.'" 

"It's great," he added, because from customer discovery, the companies learned "exactly what we want to learn in our program." 

Established in spring 2022, GORP supports startups with workshop training, team mentoring and dedicated product/service development to help them prepare to launch successfully. A part of the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the 12-week 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.  

Applications for the fall 2023 cohort open June 5. The cohort will begin in August.   

GORP has also assisted more than 150 entrepreneurs through its a la carte services, Shellhammer said, which includes workshops, networking events, 1:1 consulting and access to co-working space. 

Founders Eliot Jackson and Marley Blonsky announced the shifting focus in their companies at the cohort's Demo Night in April. 

Jackson, whose initial idea sought to link coaches, clinics and races with cyclists, is now focusing on helping cyclists race their bikes anywhere. Jackson said his new proposal, Saga "brings the best parts of bike racing to your doorstep" by helping the user find curated routes in their city and compete against other riders.  

Blonsky, meanwhile, planned to create a cycling clothing brand tailored to plus-size riders. She learned through customer discovery that clothing was only a minor part of the problem for larger riders; suitable outdoor equipment in general is a widespread issue. 

The "idea now is to really design the best gear for bigger bodies," Blonsky said, "whether it's a climbing harness or sleeping bag." 

Beyond customer discovery, the overall support GORP provided to B-Royl was invaluable, according to co-founder Tracy Byrd. Her startup is focused on developing a cycling pad that prevents skin irritation and discomfort while enhancing performance.  

She praised Shellhammer's leadership, the access to "phenomenal" mentors and, in particular, GORP's ability to provide high-quality interns from the U of A through OEI's Venture Intern Program.  

"I've had … an excellent intern through the U of A who's done a tremendous amount of research for me," Byrd said. 


  • Kvell Outdoors — Bentonville  

    • Kvell focuses on creating the best outdoor gear — from clothing and apparel, to sleeping bags and climbing harnesses — for bigger bodies. 

  • Best Ride of Your Life (B-Royl) — Bentonville 

    • B-Royl is designing high-performance cycling apparel that prevents skin irritation and discomfort while enhancing performance. Co-founded by Ironman triathlete Tracy Byrd and Andrew Jacuzzi, B-Royl's product will allow cyclists to comfortably ride longer.  

  • Natural State Climbing Co. — Bentonville  

    • Composed of passionate rock climbers, Cloud Pad is building innovative products that make outdoor bouldering safer, easier and more affordable. Co-founded by Alex Huesing and Pedro Somarriba, Cloud Pad is eliminating barriers to entry in this sport and pushing bouldering to new heights.  

  • Greenway Bike Company — Fayetteville  

    • Greenway Bike Company is helping people live their best lives by electrifying every unused bike in America. Founded by Brent Robinson, GBC converts run-of-the-mill analog bikes into electric assist bikes using an electric "mid-drive" motor.  

  • Saga — Multiple locations  

    • Saga brings world-class tools to coaches and event organizers that help them connect with cyclists. Founded by Eliot Jackson, Saga makes creating experiences lightning fast and eliminates the need for multiple scheduling, payment, email and website solutions so they can focus on doing what they love. 

  • UNCL Co. LLC — Bentonville 

    • UNCL Co., short for Universal Network Controlled Lock, is an app-enabled security device that easily attaches to existing bike racks, allowing riders to secure and monitor their device without the need to carry a personal lock. UNCL emerged from the New Venture Development course in the Sam M. Walton College of Business and is co-founded by Master of Business Administration students Michael Burton, Clayton Woodruff and Payton Lenz. 

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, Startup Village and Greenhouse at the Bentonville Collaborative, the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation provides free workshops and programs — including social and corporate innovation design teams, venture internships, competitions and startup coaching. A unit of the Sam M. Walton College of Business and Division of Economic Development, the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation  also offers on-demand support for students who will be innovators within existing organizations and entrepreneurs who start something new. 


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