REI Path Ahead Ventures will celebrate the graduation of 18 founders from its Embark accelerator program this month. Embark is a three-month virtual program created in partnership with Founded Outdoors that provides entrepreneurs of color with resources and learning to turn their early-stage ideas into viable business options. The program is part of REI Path Ahead Ventures’ multi-year $30 million commitment to partner with founders of color as they start and scale their businesses in the outdoor industry. This is the second cohort to complete the Embark program.
“Path Ahead Ventures is focused on supporting founders at every stage of their journey as they bring new perspectives and businesses to the industry,” said Dan Kihanya, director of REI Path Ahead Ventures. “With Embark, we’re focused on giving founders the tools and expertise they need to get their innovations off the ground.”
Path Ahead Ventures’ Embark program connects Black, Indigenous, Latina/o/x, Asian American and Pacific Islander founders to industry and startup experts as they learn best practices and gather valuable feedback on their businesses. Each participating company receives a $10,000 equity-free grant to kickstart their business. In addition to capital, founders are also connected to a community of peers and mentors to support their continued growth in the industry.
“Entrepreneurs need specific skill sets, industry knowledge, and professional connections to drive business growth. Historically, however, access to these resources has been limited based on demographic, geographic, or socioeconomic factors,” said Enhao Li, Founded Outdoors director of programming. “The Embark program is designed from the ground up to support our founders’ needs as visionaries, business owners and members of a growing and diversifying outdoor community.”
This year’s Embark cohort includes a wide range of companies providing outdoor gear and services.
Digital, Community & Experiences
- Black Girl Country Living – Experiences to help BIPOC people find healing and connection through the wisdom of Mama Nature. (Hillarie Maddox; Whidbey Island, Washington; Instagram: @blackgirl.countryliving).
- BLK Beetles – A wellness community that helps people of color discover and create healthier relationships with like-minded people through digital and in-person experiences. (Samad Hinton; Houston, Texas; Instagram: @blkbeetles)
- Boheme Retreats – Inclusive and diverse camping spaces that feature renovated vintage campers from the 60’s and 70’s. (Keva Niver; Brooklyn, New York; Instagram: @boheme_retreats)
- Community Gearbox – An app empowering outdoorsy people and organizations to share, co-own, and mobilize resources amongst people they know and trust. (Dante Garcia; San Francisco; Instagram: @communitygearbox, Facebook: CommunityGearbox).
- Quest Trails – Equips families with downloadable, curated scavenger hunt trail maps that inspire and engage kids outdoors. (Danielle Biering; Lacey, Washington; Instagram: @questtrails, Facebook: QuestTrails).
Gear & Apparel
- Antigrav – A style-first, climber-owned apparel company that gives back to climbing organizations that help increase climbing access. (Keenan Takahashi; Berkeley, California; Instagram: @antigrav.wtf).
- Camp Crush – Fashion & function with apparel & gear designed for and by people of color on & off the trails. (Branché Foston; Los Angeles; Instagram: @thehoneyblock).
- Muvaland Beach – Culturally-inspired african-print beach and camping gear. (Amina Leila; Alexandria, Virginia; Instagram: @MuvalandBeach).
- Nature’s Keeper – Designing handmade sustainable outdoor gear for skiers and snowboarders to go further in the backcountry. (Zain Ali; South Lake Tahoe, California; Instagram: @Natures.Keeper)
- The Outdoor Journal Tour – Multipurpose tools, training, and resources for outdoor wellness experiences (Kenya & Michelle Jackson-Saulters; Atlanta; Instagram: @outdoorjournaltour).
- Outpost Adventure Systems – Building equipment to make nomadic living accessible for all. Phase I is to create the most comfortable portable chair ever designed (George Yeh; San Jose, California; Instagram: @OutpostAS).
- Sportland – Natural fiber technical apparel for athletes who want to remove plastics from their workout gear without sacrificing functionality or style (Sonal Bains, Brooklyn, New York)
- Willderness Calling – A company dedicated to enhancing the camping experience through knowledge and camp organization. (Will MacHolmes; Philadelphia; Instagram: @willdernesscalling)
Consumer Packaged Goods & Food
- Elder Hair – A curly hair product line rooted in community for adventurers who like to feel good while defining and nourishing their hair. (Natalia Ospina; Denver; Instagram: @elderhair)
- Eztia – Cold therapy wearables that deliver on-the-go icing that’s friendly for both people and planet. (Tiffany Yeh; Philadelphia; Instagram: @eztiahealth).
- Panj Rivers Provisions – Full-flavored, spicy Indian backpacking meals that celebrate the third-culture experience of South Asians. (Reena Badyal, San Francisco; Instagram: @panj.river).
- Spork Outdoors – Custom grocery lists for backpackers hoping to recreate home-cooked meals on the trail. (Alanah Anderson; San Francisco; Instagram: @sporkoutdoors).
In addition to Embark, Path Ahead Ventures will announce companies participating in its Navigate program—designed for founders with existing brands in the industry—in June. Path Ahead Ventures also provides direct equity investment and dedicated support for founders through its investment fund. To learn more about Path Ahead Ventures, visit REI.com/path-ahead.
About the REI Co-op
REI is a specialty outdoor retailer, headquartered near Seattle. The nation’s largest consumer co-op, REI is a growing community of 21.5 million members who expect and love the best quality gear, inspiring expert classes and trips, and outstanding customer service. REI has 181 locations in 42 states and the District of Columbia. If you can’t visit a store, you can shop at REI.com, REI Outlet or the REI shopping app. REI isn’t just about gear. Adventurers can take the trip of a lifetime with REI’s active adventure travel company that runs more than 100 itineraries across the country. In many communities where REI has a presence, professionally trained instructors share their expertise by hosting beginner-to advanced-level classes and workshops about a wide range of activities. To build on the infrastructure that makes life outside possible, REI invests millions annually in hundreds of local and national nonprofits that create access to—and steward—the outdoor places that inspire us all.
About Founded Outdoors
Launched in 2021, Founded Outdoors supports emerging businesses nationwide through community, programming and connections, with the goal of increasing access in the outdoor industry as well as in outdoor places. Their community includes over 400 outdoor entrepreneurs at different stages across product categories, and is supported with ongoing knowledge-sharing, peer support, resource databases, and topical workshops and events; their strategic connections are continually built between their community and industry leaders, such as state offices of outdoor recreation, economic development agencies, legacy outdoor business founders, and early-stage investors; and their structured programming is comprised of both short-term learning events as well as long-term industry initiatives. For more information on Founded Outdoors, please visit foundedoutdoors.com.