REI Co-op launches Path Ahead Ventures to invest in founders of color
Oct 28, 2021
SEATTLE – REI Co-op today launched Path Ahead Ventures, a new initiative that will invest $30 million in 300 founders of color as they start and scale their businesses in the outdoor industry. Through Path Ahead Ventures, REI will leverage its network, capabilities and community to partner with Black, Indigenous, Latinx and Asian American Pacific Islander entrepreneurs to build their businesses faster. As founders of color succeed, the industry will become stronger, more inclusive and welcoming to all people.
"Path Ahead Ventures is an opportunity to collaborate with founders of color to create an outdoor industry where economic opportunity, success and influence reflect the true diversity of people who love, protect and share life outside," said Susan Viscon, REI senior vice president of corporate development and investment. "Partnering with founders to grow their businesses faster will also provide the opportunity for their innovations, perspectives and ideas to influence the broader industry."
Path Ahead Ventures is the result of months of discussions with hundreds of founders, investors, and industry and community leaders to understand current challenges and identify opportunities where REI can bring unique value to founders. Path Ahead Ventures will focus on four specific areas of support:
- Community network: Founders will have access to partners, experts and peers within in the industry and beyond to provide a trusted space to get advice, build skills and develop new relationships for growth.
- Capability and infrastructure: Path Ahead Ventures will leverage the co-op's product development capability, supply chain network, distribution engine, marketing reach and sustainability competency to help founders grow and scale their businesses.
- Customer connection: Founders will be connected across the broader co-op community—including members, employees, and industry partners—as they test their products and services, learn the industry, and build their businesses faster.
- Capital investment: Founders will have access to the funding to enable economic mobility and support their growth. This includes grants and potential direct investment.
"Through Path Ahead Ventures, we are taking a founders first approach," said Dan Kihanya, REI director of corporate development. "Our goal is to utilize the full extent of REI's network and resources to build connections and create opportunities that benefit founders long-term in the most meaningful way."
Founders of color have historically been overlooked, under-resourced. The outdoor industry is a $459.8-billion-dollar sector, yet only about 1% of retail brands are owned or led by people of color. Retailers, including REI, have sourced products in ways that have made it difficult for smaller, newer companies to compete—which has had a disproportionate impact on founders of color.
REI is committed to adding at least 200 new brands that are owned or led by people of color to its assortment by 2030, generating $1 billion in cumulative sales and representing more than 15% of brands sold at REI. REI will meet this goal by creating pathways for newer and smaller brands to access and navigate the co-op's buying process while helping grow representation of diverse entrepreneurs in the industry through Path Ahead Ventures.
Path Ahead Ventures will grow the products, experiences and services available to people across the outdoor industry, through REI and other outdoor retailers. The initiative includes two programs to support founders at varying stages in their journey:
- Embark: The Embark program will support aspiring founders looking to turn their early-stage ideas into viable business models. Accepted founders will receive an equity-free grant and complete a three-month virtual course, developed in collaboration with Founded Outdoors, to learn best practices from industry and startup experts. Embark is now accepting applications for its first cohort through November 28.
- Navigate: The Navigate program will support existing founders in growing and scaling their businesses. In addition to funding, founders in the Navigate program will have access to resources for production, distribution, publicity and networking. Navigate will launch in 2022.
Path Ahead Ventures is part of the co-op's broader effort to advance racial equity, diversity and inclusion and become a fully inclusive, anti-racist multicultural organization. In addition to accelerating the success of founders of color in the industry, the co-op is engaged in numerous efforts to deliver products, services and experiences that reflect the different ways underrepresented communities experience and find meaning in nature.
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 23 million members who expect and love the best quality gear, inspiring expert classes and trips, and outstanding customer service. REI has 188 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.