FAYETTEVILLE — The Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program (GORP), a business incubator led by the University of Arkansas Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation (OEI) that is focused on developing entrepreneurs creating innovative products and services within the outdoor recreation industry, has received a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Agency to expand statewide.
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 Arkansas 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 program will support entrepreneurs in these communities by providing expert business development workshops, industry events, and experienced mentors. GORP will also partner with the University of Arkansas School of Law to feature entrepreneurial law sessions to assist founders with operating agreements and other business formation documents.
“The EDA grant is an 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,” said Sarah Goforth, executive director at the U of A Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which oversees GORP.
“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.”
Led by OEI Senior Director of Business Incubation Phil Shellhammer since launching in spring 2022, GORP made an immediate impact on the thriving outdoor economy in Northwest Arkansas. Through its semiannual cohort program, 25 startups have launched and expanded their businesses. 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. GORP is housed at The Collaborative, the U of A's education and research hub in Bentonville.
“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,” Shellhammer said. “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.” OEI launched its business incubation division in 2021 and focused on three sectors with outsized economic impact: outdoor recreation, health care and emerging technologies. GORP was the inaugural program.
“GORP plays a vital role in our mission to grow the state’s outdoor recreation economy, and this grant furthers that mission,” said Katherine Andrews, director of the Arkansas Office of Outdoor Recreation. “The Arkansas Office of Outdoor Recreation continues to support our community partners and the outdoor recreation industry. With the growth of GORP and Arkansas’ rapid growth in our outdoor recreation economy, we look forward to continuing to serve our entrepreneurs and existing business owners and are excited to partner with the University of Arkansas in this effort.”
GORP was followed in spring 2022 by the Northwest Arkansas BioDesign Sprints Program, a collaboration between OEI, the U of A Department of Biomedical Engineering, HealthTech Arkansas, and multiple Arkansas health care institutions tackling 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 now.
The third program, Bounds, launched in partnership with Cartwheel Studio earlier this year. Funded by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, the Bounds accelerator is focused on the intersection between emerging tech and retail.