Phil Shellhammer, Director of the Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program (GORP) at the University of Arkansas sits down with Matt on this episode of the Be Epic podcast. They discuss GORP’s mission as a business incubation program that is focused on developing entrepreneurs who are creating innovative products and services within the outdoor recreation industry. With an extensive background at Procter and Gamble, Best Buy, Sam’s Club, starting his own businesses, and franchising, Shellhammer is leading the way in guiding entrepreneurs to success in the outdoor recreation industry.
Learn more about the Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program (GORP) on the program website.
Phil Shellhammer 0:00
I can take all the things I'm passionate about in outdoor recreation, the enjoyment I have of helping entrepreneurs in this very early stage, and it all culminates together into an opportunity for me to help others. It was the perfect role.
Matt Waller 0:12
Excellence, professionalism, innovation, and collegiality. These are the values the Sam M. Walton College of Business explores in education, business, and the lives of people we meet every day. I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Walton College and welcome to the BeEPIC podcast. I have with me today, Phil Shellhammer who is currently the Director of Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program for the University of Arkansas. Phil, thank you for joining me today.
Phil Shellhammer 0:41
Thanks for having me.
Matt Waller 0:43
Phil, I'd like to talk a little bit about your background. But first, let's let everyone know, what is the Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program?
Phil Shellhammer 0:51
The Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program, which we're going to call GORP going forward because it's easier to say.
Matt Waller 0:55
Yeah, I love that name, GORP.
Phil Shellhammer 0:57
So GORP is it's a business incubator, right? The idea is how can we help early stage entrepreneurs who are from idea to launch trying to solve building their business out specifically within the outdoor recreation industry.
Matt Waller 1:12
So when I think of entrepreneurs, early stage companies, I know a lot of times they come up with an idea that solves a problem. And they eventually have to create a prototype and they eventually create a product or service, and then they get what we call product market fit or customer poll, and then you have to come up with a good business model. And then you scale. What end of that spectrum does a incubator deal with?
Phil Shellhammer 1:44
Yeah, we definitely start on that front end, right. So I like to say we start at the problem. I have a lot of people come in with their idea. And we walk them back to what problem are you actually trying to solve? Because it's best to come up with what is that? The biggest problem they're trying to solve? What is the real problem they're trying to solve? And then does the solution match that? And so we help them through the problem piece, what problem we're trying to solve, what their solutions gonna look like, how do you build a business model, and then through to prototype test MVP, however, you want to call that in launch. With all pre revenue, for the most part, I guess, I mean, we'll help some companies that are at that early stage, and they just start taking revenue, but they don't know who their customer is yet. That's kind of phases. Right. But for the most part, it's all pre revenue, helping them get to launch in a faster and hopefully more chance for success.
Matt Waller 2:29
You know, Northwest Arkansas has become a place that people are actually drawn to, for the outdoor activities. And as you mentioned, biking is a big deal. And you mentioned climbing is kind of becoming real popular.
Phil Shellhammer 2:44
Cycling, for sure, right. I mean, we have this massive playground that's been built around mountain biking, and the Razorback Greenway, all the different trails and access, it's almost embarrassing not to have a bike around here, at this point where people are riding and enjoying. But what's great is, there's so much more activity beyond just the cycling in our area. I mean, of course, we have the cycling piece of it. But even within the two counties of Northwest Arkansas, you've got great fishing and you'll find other activities like, you know, rock climbing in the state where we have some of the best rock climbing routes, between, say, the Appalachians and the Rockies. There's nowhere else in the middle of the country to really go for climbing, that's better than what you can find in Arkansas. And so as that sport grows, which it's growing tremendously, we're seeing a lot of people coming in the state, therefore the state's putting more effort on, we need to provide more access, we need to figure out policy changes to allow for more people to be able to take advantage of this. And to bring more of that tourism around the sport into our state.
Matt Waller 3:42
You say these programs are 12 weeks, right?
Phil Shellhammer 3:44
Yeah, the core incubator program, which is the application based one. Yeah, that's a 12 week program.
Matt Waller 3:49
As opposed to the a la carte?
Phil Shellhammer 3:50
Yeah, that's right.
Matt Waller 3:51
Is this the first cohort?
Phil Shellhammer 3:52
It is? Yep.
Matt Waller 3:54
So you've got four companies in the first cohort. Could you give an example of one of them?
Phil Shellhammer 4:00
Well they're all so different, right? We have, we have one product company, we have one that's that would be considered more of a local services business. And then we have two more digital businesses. Let me give you the quick version of each one, right. So our product company is in rock climbing. It's called Lacaida Ropes and the founder there, his name is Pedro. And he's basically trying to solve a new way to make climbing rope for people. And he's got this new process around the design of the rope that makes it a more safe tool for climbers, as well as a more personalized experience. And he's got a, just a great model of where this product company can go. Sitting next to him in our, in our cohort is a husband and wife team named Tyler and Morgan, who created Encore Bike Rentals. At Encore Bike Rentals, it is what it is. It's a local service of renting bikes. They started with the mountain bikes, they've gone to more traditional mountain bikes now. And they're getting some great traction simply because they're a great service business. They'll deliver the bikes where you need it, when you need it and pick it up when you're done. So you don't have to come to their shop. They're gonna bring it right to you in a white glove kind of service. And then we have two business models that are more digital. One of them is a two sided marketplace, right? This is called American Hunt. And their thought process is, how do we connect landowners to people who want to use that land for outdoor rec activities? They started with hunting, but there's a variety of other activities that people could do on their land. And so how do you connect those landowners to people who want to use the land. And the fourth one is called Trail Tours and Trail Tours, founders name is Mark. And Mark has basically created a GPS enabled audio tour of your mountain biking trail. So as you go and experience trail for the first time somebody is in your ear, helping you decide which way on the loop you should drive because all the locals go this way, or to give you safety recommendations, because you're about to go over this hill. And on the other side, it turns right sharply. So be ready for that so you don't fall, really taking the locals and taking that experience and providing it to you through the app is what his goal is.
Matt Waller 5:52
All four of those are really interesting. And one thing that's interesting about it is let's take the service company, the bike rental company, you know, that's not a scalable business, per se, usually, might be. But a lot of times it's not thought of as scalable. And I think it's good that you all are looking at both scalable, and what would appear to be non scalable businesses, because sometimes non scalable businesses are scalable.
Phil Shellhammer 6:25
The grant that paid for this was from the Walton Family Foundation. And between the Walton Family Foundation and the University, as we were talking through this, it was a massive party for our community to make sure this wasn't just about scalable businesses, many incubators and accelerators are all about, can we be a billion dollar businesses out of these? Right, we didn't want to just focus on that. We wanted to help the local mom and pop shop, the small business services businesses that we knew we need to build around here, around this amazing tourism, and groups of people that are coming here because of our great outdoor rec activities. So we knew we needed to build up as well. Now, that's not to say we're the only ones doing that, right. Think about the ASBTDC has been that for years, and they're phenomenal at it. In fact, we try and bring them in as much as we can, because they're so good at helping small businesses, ramp, build and then continue to sustain their businesses to be successful. All we try and do is take the assets again, similar to OEI we take the assets and the tools that we know they already have, like, try and get our companies connected with them. And then overlay on top of that. What is outdoor rec specific look like? And how can we help them from outdoor recreation specifically through mentors? Or through the other tools we have to provide for that.
Matt Waller 7:30
The acronym that you used for that.
Phil Shellhammer 7:33
Matt Waller 7:33
Yeah, you said that pretty quick.
Arkansas, Small Business and Technology Development Center.
Yeah. And so did you know about them before you were,
Phil Shellhammer 7:41
Well, I knew about them before I was in this role, for sure. That's because I started a couple of businesses myself. And so Mary Beth and team there, I had reached out to them early on.
Matt Waller 7:49
They're really terrific.
Phil Shellhammer 7:51
Matt Waller 7:52
If you think about it, most wealth creation, and job creation in the US is from small businesses, not necessarily scalable businesses. And every community needs good small businesses, if they can scale great, but we need all kinds of businesses. But boy, I could see the benefit of that service where you it's telling you,
Phil Shellhammer 8:16
Trail tours, the audio tours.
Matt Waller 8:18
Yeah, because if you, if you go on a few paths around here, you realize you it's helpful to have. And I think if you're new too, to the sport,
Phil Shellhammer 8:29
If you're new to the sport or new to the area, right, the benefit of being able to be like a local, there's so many different, you know, places where you want to be like food, for instance, right? When you go to a new town, a new area, you want to know where the locals go, you wonder where locals eat. Well, in this case, he's taking that same concept and saying, We know you want to ride like a local, why would you go and waste your time trying to follow a map or stop all the time on your mountain bike, if you're coming to visit for us for just a couple of days, we want you have the best experience possible. And so put the experience, put the map basically in your ear and use your phone and go experience the trail and don't have to stop and question or worry about crashing, not knowing what's around the bend. We're going to make sure you're you're covered that it's that's a great model to help people.
Matt Waller 9:11
Can that tool also help you pick the appropriate level of difficulty?
Phil Shellhammer 9:16
I'm sure it can. I don't know if he's put that into all of his trail tours yet or not. But it absolutely could simply from a difficulty level or this is you know that that first voice that comes to your head can talk about the trail overall, to make sure you're aware of what you're getting into. This is a black and here's how it runs that kind of thing.
Matt Waller 9:35
What was the one you mentioned about it was like a Airbnb for hunting?
When you described it, I thought of like an Airbnb.
Phil Shellhammer 9:44
And that's actually how he describes it sometimes. Like it's like an Airbnb for hunters.
Matt Waller 9:47
And it seems like a really good idea because it's so hard to know where to go. And what's, and I actually did, I looked at it online and looked at the app and I thought it was neat, because some of the providers, you know, provide you with a nice place to stay and help you hunt, you know, there's different levels of service when you look through them. But what a great idea. You know, I know, when we moved here, as my kids were getting a little older, I was never a big hunter in my life, but I wanted them to experience it. And it was not, of course, now, when I first started looking at this, a lot of them were hard to find online, too. But it was hard to know where to go.
Phil Shellhammer 9:56
Absolutely. If you're a experienced hunter, but just new to an area, right, you don't need someone to tell you how, right but you need a space to go. And the biggest problem in public land can be oversaturated with people. And so if you wanted to go to a private place, then you need to know the person. If you're new to the area, you don't know the owners, you don't know the people who know, who owned the land that would be willing to let you go there. It's by far one of the trickiest parts of the business too, right? Because you got to give that comfort level to the landowner, as well as the person going on the land that they're both going to take care of the opportunity.
Matt Waller 11:05
Neat idea. The first one you mentioned,
Phil Shellhammer 11:08
Matt Waller 11:09
Lacaida Ropes, what are the ropes?
Phil Shellhammer 11:13
Their model is basically, personalization of the rope. So many times the ropes that are out there now, they don't match the needs of what the the climbers have, but it's the only option they have for them. Safety is by far the biggest need for a climber, any climber. And so his model, and what he's working on designing out right now is how do you create ropes that are more safe and more personalized at the same time for that climber, and super exciting, like, his excitement around what he's doing in this particular industry. Just being at the time he's in and where he's at right now, it is going to be a fun business to watch, because he's gonna go way beyond just the rope. And we just we see a lot of lot of opportunities with where he's gonna go with it.
Matt Waller 11:54
Well, you have quite a background yourself. You started your career for several years at Procter and Gamble, you were at Procter and Gamble four years, Best Buy for five, you were Director of Strategy and Business Development at Best Buy, and Sam's Club for almost 10 years, you were a Vice President of several different things, Merchandising Solutions, Regional Merchandising, Pricing. And on top of that, you have started a business of your own. And you also own a franchise.
Phil Shellhammer 12:26
Matt Waller 12:27
So you, you really are well suited for this kind of role.
Phil Shellhammer 12:32
It was hard to find something that just better fit where my interests were. I did, I started my own business, and I bought a franchise. And so I was basically starting two different businesses here in this area. And I got super deep into understanding entrepreneurship, understanding the tools, the community, there's the whole ecosystem entrepreneurship around here. And then I was helping other entrepreneurs as they were starting to build their businesses. And I, I loved it, I was having a blast, because I could take all this experience I've had from these great companies I've worked for before. And it's kind of this great education I've had throughout my career, and help apply it to somebody who is trying to figure this out for the first time. And if I take the tools of what I'm trying to go through and building my own businesses, I could sit there and help them solve what the biggest problem was, how do I make this business model work? How do I think about pricing? Right? Because that's the expertise I kind of had for my, my career, how do I help them. So then this role comes through, and I can take all the things I'm passionate about in outdoor recreation, the enjoyment I have of helping entrepreneurs, at this very early stage, and it all culminates together into an opportunity for me to help others. It was the perfect role for me.
Matt Waller 13:33
Where is GORP going? What's the future? You've got your first cohort of four, and it's in a 12 week cycle. What's the future?
Phil Shellhammer 13:42
It's still early, right? April 21, will be the end of our first cohort. We know we're going to run two cohorts a year. And so the next one comes in the fall between now and then what we're really trying to think about is okay, we're seeing a lot of success, right? If we were to measure success for us, we would basically say, are we helping the entrepreneurs in our program, learn faster, get more prepared and be more prepared when they hit launch to be more successful, so you give them the best chance possible. We're seeing that already, we can see the metrics that are showing that. So now the question is, how do we provide more of that? How do we put more of that out there for more entrepreneurs to take advantage of? And I think the answer is it's still TBD. Right? There's a variety of ways that we could do this, we can grow just by increasing the number of entrepreneurs in our cohorts, right. And so we took four the first time, maybe we can grow it to a larger group, you get to the point where an accelerator, or incubator has too many companies. And so we'd have to keep it you know limited, but maybe it's eight to 10 companies instead of the four we have now. But you can also grow in other ways. We can grow by expanding our reach outside of just Northwest Arkansas and bringing in either regional or even national companies or entrepreneurs that are interested in joining companies because there are so few of these incubators out there. That might be a good way for us to grow as well. But a third way is we're building a platform right now of tools that are specifically around outdoor recreation. And these tools hopefully will be replicable enough that we can help even other communities within our state or elsewhere that have the assets of outdoor recreation within them to replicate what we're doing for their local entrepreneurs, for them to be able to take entrepreneurs who want to build startups in the outdoor rec space, but don't have the tools or access to tools we're providing here. How do we provide that and replicate that to other communities, even within the state of Arkansas? So all those are opportunities and possibilities. We're still figuring out which way we go and how it works.
Matt Waller 15:30
Well, thank you, Phil, so much for joining me today. And thank you for leading GORP. It's really exciting to see how it's coming together.
Phil Shellhammer 15:39
Thanks for having me. I'm really enjoying being here.
Matt Waller 15:41
On behalf of the Sam M. Walton College of Business. I want to thank everyone for spending time with us for another engaging conversation. You can subscribe by going to your favorite podcast service and searching BeEPIC. B E P I C.