U of A Business Incubator helps Northwest Arkansas transplant startups

Morgan Baumgardner (right) and her husband, Tyler Baumgardner, founded Encore Bike Rentals in 2021 after settling in northwest Arkansas.  Their startup aims to help residents. "Ride according to the environment" On the roads of the region.

Nikki Toth Photography

Morgan Baumgarner (right) and her husband, Tyler Baumgarner, founded Encore Bicycle Rentals in 2021 after settling in northwest Arkansas. Their initiative is to help residents “ride like a local” on the region’s roads.

BELLA VISTA, Ark. — A chance visit to Northwest Arkansas last year for an enterprising young couple led to the founding of Encore Bike Rentals, a growing startup focused on helping residents “ride like a local” on the region’s roads.

Morgan and Tyler Baumgarner were traveling the country in an RV when Morgan’s mom sent her a link about the sprawling road system in Benton and Washington counties.

They arrived in July 2021 and “didn’t want to leave,” Morgan Baumgardner said.

But when family came to visit, they had trouble renting bikes for the roads. Bamgarders, who founded a marketing company two years ago, thought they would have a solution to improving access to the roads.

Enter the GORP or Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program. Led by U of A’s Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, GORP supports startups through workshops, group mentoring and dedicated product/service development. The program offers up to $15,000 in “non-pooling seed funds” per company – funding that does not require the owner to give up equity in the company.

The Baumgardners joined the first GORP team in January during the startup’s launch phase. The company had a website but not a single bike for rent.

Now, months after graduating from a 12-week course, high-quality mountain bikes can be rented with concierge service in three cities. Encore Bike Rentals delivers (and picks up) their bikes free of charge to trailheads, hotels, vacation rentals and other locations in Bella Vista, Bentonville and Rogers.

Morgan Baumgardner said GORP pushed the company to “think beyond that” about bike rentals, as the program’s consultants argued that the couple should decide what kind of impact they want to make.

“If any business or startup wants to grow or push itself into the next phase of its business, GORP can help make that happen,” said Morgan Baumgardner.

She added that the shared experience of GORP – sharing the entrepreneurial journey – was also valuable.

“Being with other growing companies was great[and]helped make the journey less lonely,” said Morgan Baumgarner.

GORP’s assets will help Encore Bike Rentals even after the company completes the program because GORP is designed to support entrepreneurs with a steady stream of speakers, workshops and networking with industry experts before, during and after the group, said GORP Director Phil Shellhammer.

“Businesses like Encore continue to fuel the strong tourism industry that is growing around the amazing outdoor recreation experiences you can have here in NWA,” Shellhammer said.

Encore Bike Rental was one of four companies that graduated from GORP’s first cohort in April. Others include American hunting, Lacada ropes and trail tours. The second batch will start in August.

About the U of A Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation: The Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation creates and develops creative and entrepreneurial experiences for students across all disciplines. Through the Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Center, McMillon Innovation Studio and Startup Village, OEI offers free workshops and programs – social and enterprise innovation design teams, venture internships, competitions and startup coaching. OEI provides on-demand support to students who become innovators in existing organizations and to entrepreneurs who are starting new ones.

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