Gone Fishin': GORP Helps Launch App Pairing Anglers

Founded by John Bledsoe, Co-Angler is an online platform designed to connect people to go fishing together.
Joshua Mast

Founded by John Bledsoe, Co-Angler is an online platform designed to connect people to go fishing together.

BENTONVILLE, Ark. – It was a particularly lonely day out on the lake when the "lightbulb went off" for John Bledsoe. 

Sitting in his boat as he fished, Bledsoe looked at the empty seat next to him and thought: why isn't there an app out there to connect people to go fishing together? 

Thus was born Co-Angler, an online platform designed to connect folks with their "average everyday angler," Bledsoe says.  

A Missouri native and a chemist by trade, Bledsoe joined the Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program's fourth cohort in fall 2023. He officially launched Co-Angler a week after the program ended. 

GORP supports startups with workshop training, team mentoring and dedicated product/service development to help them prepare to launch successfully.

Bledsoe said GORP "did a great job with covering all the bases" for starting a business, but what he enjoyed most about the program was the format: eight companies from different industries with the freedom to "learn from each other." 

"That was the most beneficial part, friendships made from the program," Bledsoe said. "Taking that leap of faith and being in that same boat added a sense of commonality."

A part of the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, GORP 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 sheer number of founders in the fall cohort made for "very engaging and lively conversations," according to Phil Shellhammer, GORP's director and senior director of business incubation at OEI. 

"As with other cohorts, some of the most value in the program is the interactions between founders as we learn from each other and build our companies together," Shellhammer said. 

"Entrepreneurship is lonely, and the GORP cohort provides a team of other founders to work alongside, learn from and brainstorm new ideas with." 

OPPORTUNITIES FOR GROWTH

GORP launched with four startups in spring 2022 and has aided 25 startups in expanding their businesses through its 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.

The fall 2023 cohort was GORP's largest yet, with eight companies representing myriad industries, from software solutions that connect cyclists and anglers, to innovative rock-climbing apparel and wilderness guides. 

"GORP has become a well-oiled machine, but we continue to see opportunities for growth, in hopes to help more founders at more stages of business growth," Shellhammer said.  

"That's why we applied and were awarded the grant from the (U.S. Economic Development Administration) to expand around the state of Arkansas. We also see opportunities to help founders who are past launch and working to grow their scalable business through an accelerator program." 

The $1.2 million 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).  

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. 

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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