by John Russel Jones

Specialty outdoor retailer REI‘s  Path Ahead Ventures program 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.”

Photo by Hu Chen

Apparel brands that participated in the program  include:

  • Antigrav – A style-first, climber-owned apparel company that gives back to climbing organizations that help increase climbing access. (Keenan Takahashi; Berkeley, California; Instagram:
  • Camp Crush – Fashion & function with apparel & gear designed for and by people of color on & off the trails. (Branché Foston; Los Angeles; Instagram: @thehoneyblock).
  • 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).

The program supported a wide range of businesses, including Black Girl Country Living, which provides experiences to help BIPOC people find healing and connection through the wisdom of Mama Nature, Community Gearbox, an app empowering outdoorsy people and organizations to share, co-own, and mobilize resources amongst people they know and trust, and Quest Trails, which equips families with downloadable, curated scavenger hunt trail maps that inspire and engage kids outdoors.

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

Top Photo by Tommy Lisbin.