GORP Receives Funding to Expand Statewide

Since launching in 2022, GORP has helped 25 startups expand their businesses and assisted more than 300 entrepreneurs through workshops, one-on-one consulting and access to co-working space.
Russell A. Cothren

Since launching in 2022, GORP has helped 25 startups expand their businesses and assisted more than 300 entrepreneurs through workshops, one-on-one consulting and access to co-working space.

The U of A's Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program has received a $1.2 million grant to expand statewide and support founders from the Ozark Mountains to the Arkansas Delta in creating innovative products and services within the outdoor recreation industry. 

The grant, which is matched by an additional $1 million in funding from the state of Arkansas, will allow GORP to focus on four key areas of the state that were recently designated as opportunity zones for the outdoor recreation economy: Queen Wilhelmina State Park (Mena), Petit Jean State Park (Morrilton), Pinnacle Mountain State Park (Roland) and the Delta Heritage Trail State Park (West Helena). 

Overseen by the university's Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the new "GORP ARound the State" initiative will support entrepreneurs in these communities by providing expert business development workshops, industry events and experienced mentors. GORP will also partner with the U of A School of Law to feature entrepreneurial law sessions to assist founders with operating agreements and other business formation documents. 

"People associate outdoor recreation with fun — and it is that. But as an industry, it also makes up 2% of Arkansas' GDP and creates more than 40,000 jobs," said Phil Shellhammer, OEI's senior director of business incubation.  

"This grant and the generous match from the State of Arkansas will allow us to double down on that strength, bringing high-paying jobs, visibility and tourism dollars to the state, which will have a big ripple effect on families and communities." 

Elevating Arkansas Founders

The grant, awarded by the U.S. Economic Development Agency, is the largest in OEI's history and helps validate a hypothesis OEI presented to spur economic development, according to Sarah Goforth, OEI's executive director. 

"The EDA grant is important proof of concept that a sector-specific approach to business development can attract follow-on funding from the federal government and expand across the state," Goforth said. 

"We are thrilled to take what we have learned through GORP and extend it statewide, in partnership with universities and other organizations in those regions." 

OEI will partner with schools in the U of A System — U of A Morrilton, U of A Little Rock and U of A Rich Mountain in Mena — to implement the initiatives at the state parks in those communities. OEI will team up with Thrive Inc., a local non-profit, for the project along the Delta Heritage Trail. 

The First Vertical 

Housed at The Collaborative, U of A's education and research hub in Bentonville, GORP was the inaugural business incubator at OEI and the first of three verticals focused on sectors with outsized economic impact: outdoor recreation, health care and emerging technologies.  

Shellhammer has guided GORP since it launched with four startups in spring 2022. In the last 21 months, 25 startups have expanded their businesses through GORP's semiannual cohort program.  

GORP has also supported more than 300 entrepreneurs through its a la carte services, which include workshops, networking events, one-on-one consulting and access to co-working space.  

Shellhammer said, "It's amazing" the sheer number of people in the community building new products, services and digital solutions in the outdoor recreation industry. 

"The volume of founders coming through our programs proved to us we had chosen our first incubation vertical perfectly." 

GORP was followed by the Northwest Arkansas BioDesign Sprints Program, a collaboration between OEI, the U of A Department of Biomedical Engineering, HealthTech Arkansas and multiple Arkansas healthcare institutions to tackle problems in the healthcare industry.  

In its first year, the BioDesign program has yielded 11 novel innovations and three provisional patents for medical devices — all developed by student-clinician teams — that are moving toward commercialization. 

The third program, Bounds, launched in partnership with Cartwheel Studio earlier this year. Funded by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, the Bounds Accelerator will leverage emerging technologies like blockchain, artificial intelligence, augmented reality and virtual reality to advance digital transformation in the retail value chain.  

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, OEI 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, 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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