BRAND BUILDING: As part of its ongoing efforts to help emerging companies strengthen their businesses, REI Path Ahead Ventures has selected six companies founded by people of color for an accelerator program.
Through the 16-week program, participants will gain mentoring, funding and programming as well as access to REI’s production, distribution and marketing know-how. The founders will meet up in person and online.
Last fall, the retailer announced a $30 million multiyear commitment to try to improve diversity in the outdoor industry. Investing in founders of color is a key piece of that initiative. Founders and entrepreneurs of color have been historically overlooked and underfunded in the nearly $460 billion outdoor industry — only 1 percent of the outdoor retail brands are owned by people of color.
In 2021, the REI board green-lit the $30 million fund, which aims to support 300 Black, Indigenous, Latina and Asian American Pacific Islander entrepreneurs by 2030. The outdoor specialty store chain is trying to add 200 brands owned and led by entrepreneurs of color into its assortment by 2030, with the goal of generating $1 billion in cumulative sales over that time.
The group that will take part in the accelerator program include Allmansright’s cofounders Livio Melo and Jennifer Jacobson, Alpine Parrot’s founder and chief executive officer Raquel Vélez, Kobee’s founder and CEO Kobe Harris, Outdoor Element’s founder and partner Mike Mojica, OYA’s founder and CEO Mitch Gilbert and Pynrs’ founder and CEO Sidney Baptista. Allmansright creates ultralight environmentally conscious gear; founded in 2019, Alpine Parrot sells technical apparel for women in sizes 14 to 24 and plans to go up to 30; Kobee’s specializes in organic lip balm; The Colorado-based Outdoor Element makes innovative outdoor gear; OYA Femtech Apparel is a patent-pending athleisure label, and Pynrs makes streetwear-inspired running apparel geared for diverse body types.
The Path Ahead Ventures Navigate program was created in partnership with R/GA Ventures. Each of the six companies will receive a $25,000 equity-free grant, as well as access to equity-funding opportunities from both entities. Participants might also have the chance to sell their merchandise in REI stores and online.
Earlier this year 27 founders graduated from Path Ahead Ventures’ Embark program. Last month REI Path Ahead Ventures made its first direct equity investment in alder apparel, which markets sustainable performance-oriented styles.