Arkansas business executive and entrepreneur, Phil Shellhammer, has been tapped by the University of Arkansas’ Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation to lead its Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program.
The Office of Entrepreneurship is a unit of U of A’s Sam M. Walton College of Business and Division of Economic Development which offers on-demand support for students who will be innovators within existing organizations and entrepreneurs who start something new.
Located at the Collaborative in Bentonville, the Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program (GORP) provides a multi-level engagement platform to grow early-stage companies from idea to launch, with support through workshops, mentorship, consulting, co-working space, network connections and product/service design.
The program’s mission is to provide broad small and startup business support for outdoor recreation entrepreneurs across multiple domains, including regionally focused hospitality and tourism businesses as well as product and service focused ventures with an ambition to scale globally.
An Ohio native, Shellhammer earned his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Cincinnati. He has also earned a Master of Business Administration degree from Harvard Business School.
Shellhammer moved to Arkansas in 2009 to work for Sam’s Club, rising to vice president within their merchandising department. In 2019, he established two education-focused tech startups: Eksplor Gaming and Wize Computing Academy of NW Arkansas.
“I was drawn to help other entrepreneurs reach their goals by cultivating the tools and resources needed to aid in their success,” Shellhammer said. “In addition, I was attracted to the potential of stimulating significant economic impact for our region. Of course, the focus on outdoor recreation didn’t hurt either, since many of the activities we target fit my personal interests as well.”
Twice a year, the GORP Incubator will house a small cohort of companies that will be granted intensive support designed to help them reach important early milestones.
Selected startups will engage in a structured 12-week program, with workshop training, curated team mentorship, dedicated product/service development support and up to $15,000 per company of “non-dilutive funding,” or funding that doesn’t require the business owner to give up equity in the company. Cohort participants will also be eligible for support from multiple programs in the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, including the Venture Intern Program and the Venture Mentoring Service.
The GORP Incubator will also work with entrepreneurs focused on the outdoor recreation industry throughout the year, with an a la carte menu of services and programming.
Over the last two decades, Northwest Arkansas has been experiencing rapid growth with an influx of new residents from around the country and abroad, which has coincided with the region’s emergence as a mountain biking destination.
As the area’s outdoor resources continue to attract and retain tourists and talent, Shellhammer envisions GORP creating a “flywheel effect” that will stimulate the entrepreneurial economy.
“It’s only natural for entrepreneurs to be raised up from individuals in our community, creating sustainable businesses within an environment of significant natural, financial and workforce resources,” he said. “This program intends to be a major catalyst to the success of these entrepreneurs and the positive economic impact they will create.”
GORP is supported by a $4.1 million gift from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation. It will be buttressed by a new Undergraduate Outdoor Products and Services Certificate and a Master of Science in Product Innovation.
Program partners include Sam M. Walton College of Business Department of Strategy, Entrepreneurship and Venture Innovation and Office of Executive Education; the College of Education and Health Professions; the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation; and the Division of Economic Development.
Applications are open for GORP’s first cohort, which will be held in early 2022.