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REI Accelerates 16 Small Businesses That Share One Thing In Common

Many people of color have founded outdoor companies in the last few years. Here's a chance to get to know some of these up-and-coming brands.

leimert mountaineeringRon Meade, Jabari Marshall and Haley McGinest
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Vietnamese-inspired trail snacks. Performance do-rags. Nature hikes for Muslim-American women. These are just a few of the ideas from 16 emerging companies founded by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) entrepreneurs. While still in the early stages of building their organizations, these founders just completed an REI accelerator program aimed at turning dreams into reality.

The Embark Program was created through a partnership between REI Path Ahead Ventures and Founded Outdoors. It provides grants and training to outdoor industry founders of color. This year, leaders from 16 startup companies participated in a 3-month curriculum on developing and growing their business ideas.

Each founder also received a $10,000 equity-free grant to boost their business. When REI opened a new store in Beaverton, Ore., in March, the founders had an opportunity to share their innovations directly with customers.

embark program REI founded outdoors
Participants in the Embark Program gather at Nike HQ; (photo/Founded Outdoors)

“This year, our programming used more of the ‘inside-out classroom’ model,” Enhao Li, director of programming for Founded Outdoors said in a press release. “Almost every week participating founders accessed recorded lectures, questions, and activities, leaving the live sessions with more time for group discussion.”

Embark Program: Offering Gear, Food, and Experiences

The Embark Program was first launched in 2021. REI said it has since provided nearly $700,000 in grants and invested $4 million in 23 companies.

Applications for Embark open in the fall each year. This year’s winning applicants come from diverse backgrounds, including founders who are Black, Indigenous, Latino, Asian American, or Pacific Islanders.

Khám Phá Foods

Khám Phá Foods founder Huy-Liem Nguyen had an idea to create Vietnamese-inspired performance snacks. He’s passionate about Vietnamese cuisine and wants to provide a culinary experience for adventurers and athletes. He’s also a deep believer in inclusivity and wanted the outdoors to be a place where everyone feels at home — regardless of culture or ethnicity. He founded Khám Phá Foods and while nothing is available on the website yet, you can sign up to be notified when the products go live.

Leimert Mountaineering

It takes a company founded by Black entrepreneurs to offer the $25 WickLite Performance Do-Rag from Leimert Mountaineering.

The brand makes performance outdoor apparel focused on Black cultural perspectives and product innovations. Based in L.A., the company’s founders include Ron Meade, Jabari Marshall, and Haley McGinest. It doesn’t just seek to make gear and apparel that meets performance standards. The idea of Leimert Mountaineering is to reflect the unique identities and lifestyles of the founders’ community as well.

Ma’wa Collective

The Ma’wa Collective was founded in 2023 by Nadah Feteih to offer Muslim-American women opportunities to explore the outdoors. The name means “sanctuary” or “place of refuge” in Arabic. That speaks to the founder’s vision of creating safe and engaging experiences for Muslim women who are bonded by a shared love for adventure. It organizes group trips, cabin stays, and day hikes.

“It has grown to be the largest Muslim women travel group based in the United States, with 500+ members in our virtual community,” according to its website.

Embark Program: Gear & Food Businesses

  • ANDA: Ultralight, eco-friendly shelters to venture deeper into the unknown. (Daniel Gerken; Atlanta, Ga.; Instagram: @andaultralight)
  • Pangoo Apparel: Outdoor apparel dedicated to creating clothes that support women’s bodies in motion and centering the voices of women of color in outdoor spaces. (Sara Chen; Detroit, Mich.; Instagram: @pangooapparel)
  • The Petite Outdoors: Outdoor apparel designed for women 5’4” and under. Perfect fit, comfort, and performance for your next adventure. (Robin Song; San Luis Obispo, Calif.; @thepetiteoutdoors)
  • Sojourn Trekkr: Ultralight hiking gear for the female form for increased outdoor access, representation, equity, and adventure. (Jennifer Villamin; Austin, Texas; Instagram: @sojourntrekkr)
  • The Good Detour: A lifestyle brand that empowers South Asians to explore the great outdoors by providing flavorful and nourishing food on the go. (Pooja Naik and Rutwij Devashrayee; San Francisco, Calif.; Instagram: @gooddetour)
  • THINK BLUE: Giving new life to expired aviation life vests by repurposing them into waterproof gear pouches for outdoors enthusiasts. (Catherine Chin and Marlene Renee Smith; Honolulu, Hawaii; Instagram: @daretothinkblue)
  • WARPONYBMX: Native American-made soft goods for the outdoor community. (Joeseph Arnoux; Albuquerque, N.M.; Instagram: @warponybmx)
  • ZeenYo: Protective childrenswear designed for worry-free outdoor adventures. (Natasha Medeiros; Arlington, Va.; Instagram: Natasha Medeiros,@zeenyokids)

Embark Program: Digital, Community, and Experiences

  • Dulce Base Tipi: A tipi destination on the Jicarilla Apache Nation reservation in Dulce, N.M., with a great view of Archuleta Mesa, also known as the Dulce UFO Underground Base. (Heather Gomez; Dulce, N.M.; Instagram: @dulcebasetipi)
  • Hightag: Giving athletes the power to automatically capture action media of themselves that would otherwise be impossible. (Alex and Jonathan de la Fuente; Bentonville, Ark.; Instagram: @hightag.app)
  • Islandclimber: Puerto Rico’s outfitter of climbing experiences for every travel itinerary. (Carlos Salinas Linares; San Juan, P.R.; Instagram: @islandclimber)
  • Intrsxtn Surf: Creating a safe space for Black women and women of color to explore the outdoors through surfing. (Jessa Williams; Los Angeles, Calif.; Instagram: @intrsxtn_surf)
  • Outdoorithm: An all-in-one digital platform that simplifies camping trip planning for urban families. (Sally and Justin Steele; Oakland, Calif.; Instagram: @outdoorithm)
3 snowboarders pose with their boards atop a peak in Aspen, Colorado

Outdoor Scholarships for Women and BIPOC Athletes This Year

Looking for more resources, be it for education funding or outdoor experience? We've got you covered. Check out the latest options for outdoor scholarship programs here. Read more…

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