DTSOI Student Athlete Chosen for UofA Entrepreneurial Cohort

The Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program has selected Don Tyson School of Innovation sophomore Joseph Rouse as a member of its 2023 entrepreneurial cohort.

The Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation leads the Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program, the University of Arkansas’ flagship business incubation program, according to an Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation press release. GORP supports startups with workshop training, team mentoring and dedicated product and service development to help cohort participants scale their businesses globally.

“It feels pretty cool to be selected to the GORP program, as not many people are chosen each year,” Rouse said. “I think this is a great opportunity for me to learn about more sides of business, because there are so many other people in this program that have great experiences, and we can help each other out.”

Rouse is a competitive ninja athlete and outdoor climber, who established a business called SLAPCHALKS about two years ago.

The teen came up with the idea of SLAPCHALKS when his focus was impeded by coaches providing him access to chalk bags as he progressed through obstacles during a ninja warrior competition.

“It’s pretty important, especially for gripping during obstacles,” Rouse said of having access to chalk when competing.

Some athletes rub chalk on their pants during competitions, but Rouse said he wanted to create a more sustainable solution.

Rouse’s answer to the problem was to create ninja warrior shorts and pants that feature a mesh side pocket in which ninjas can place cloth chalk bags filled with powdered chalk, he said. Athletes simply slap the pant pockets when competing to chalk their hands so they can progress through the course uninterrupted.

Rouse also offers chalk bag Refill Rings he invented through SLAPCHALKS to make the bags easier to fill.

Program Participation

Rouse and SLAPCHALKS stood out among potential program candidates for several reasons, said Phil Shellhammer, GORP director.

“This is a very innovative idea, and the effort by Joseph and his family that was already put into this product was compelling. They also have a strategy for growth and a thoughtful plan to execute,” Shellhammer said. “Obviously, a company whose CEO is a sophomore in high school stood out as well, but Joseph showed both a maturity and dedication that differentiates him from most high school students.”

The 12-week program began Aug. 29 and will conclude Nov. 14, according to the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation release.

Members of the eight businesses represented in the cohort will meet every Tuesday to participate in workshops and training sessions led by community experts, Shellhammer said. Participants will explore topics that include financial planning, pitching a business and pricing strategies.

Cohort members will also have access to a team of professional mentors and an intern from the University of Arkansas to provide labor support, he said.

“It becomes a very consuming amount of work, but this type of effort is what is needed to get a business off the ground and growing,” Shellhammer said.

GORP is supported by a $4.1 million gift from the Walton Family Foundation, he said. The Arkansas Fish and Game Commission will likewise sponsor two companies focused on hunting and fishing activities.

Joseph Rouse, a Don Tyson School of Innovation sophomore, wore SLAPCHALKS gear as a competitor on Season 15 of “American Ninja Warrior.”

SLAPCHALKS Development

Producing products locally to create local jobs is a core value for SLAPCHALKS, said Vanessa Rouse, Joseph’s mother. The pants and shorts are produced in small batches by Interform, a Springdale nonprofit that promotes creative growth and change in the region.

“We will also work with Interform on making our new outdoor pants and shorts prototypes in time for our December Climbing Expo in Chattanooga, Tenn.," she said. "We also hope to make our leggings prototypes with them as well.”

Joseph Rouse is seeking for ways to expand SLAPCHALKS to appeal to a broader audience.

“This should result in an upgraded version of our pants and shorts that will be water and stain resistant, stretchy, stylish and super-efficient for outdoor climbers,” he said. “We want them to absolutely enjoy their climbs because of how quick and easy it is to get chalk whenever they need it!”

Rouse said he’s looking forward to learning from cohort mentors.

“With help from other people who have done business before, I feel this will be a great learning experience for me to really get into how to reach and engage our customers with an amazing product,” he said.

Cohort companies will feature a Demo Night on Nov. 14 to unveil their learnings, prototypes and next steps for their businesses, Shellhammer said.

“We’re excited to have SLAPCHALKS in the program, and hope we can celebrate Joseph’s progress with his company,” he said.

Since its founding in spring 2022, 17 startups have launched and expanded their businesses through the GORP cohorts, according to the release. GORP has also supported nearly 200 entrepreneurs through its a la carte services, which include workshops, networking events, 1:1 consulting and access to co-working space.

GORP is housed at The Collaborative, the UofA's education and research hub in Bentonville.