A founder demonstrates how to use a tool to open a can of propane to two customers in an open-air marketplace

REI Path Ahead Ventures announces 2023 Navigate accelerator program cohort

Founders of color representing six companies to partner with REI as they scale their businesses

Jun 1, 2023

SEATTLE – REI Path Ahead Ventures is announcing a new cohort of founders that have been selected for its 2023 Navigate accelerator program. Path Ahead Ventures is partnering with nine founders of color, representing six companies this year as they further their growth in the outdoor industry.  

The Navigate program brings the cohort together in-person and online over 20 weeks for a customized learning and development experience tailored to each individual company’s needs. Navigate offers founders of existing companies in the industry resources to scale their growth. Support includes curated programming, mentorship, and one-on-one strategic guidance with subject matter experts. Founders also have opportunities to meet with and learn from experienced partners both inside and outside the industry, while building their networks and connecting with peers at similar stages. Each participating company will receive a $25,000 equity-free grant and have access to additional funding opportunities from Path Ahead Ventures and other investors. 

“Through our Navigate program, we are able to leverage the co-op and broader industry’s expertise in production, distribution and marketing to help founders take their businesses to the next level,” said Susan Viscon, REI vice president and director of Path Ahead Ventures. “We’re inspired by the founders selected for this year’s cohort and look forward to partnering with them throughout the program and beyond.” 

The program will culminate with a Founders Market pop-up shop at REI’s Seattle flagship store on October 14, where they can share their stories and test their products with customers, while driving sales. Companies will also participate in a Demo Day and may be eligible to be featured in REI stores or online. 

This year’s Navigate cohort includes: 

  • SEPTEMBER – Erika Seiko Togashi, Founder: SEPTEMBER is a sustainably-minded, female-owned swim and activewear brand empowering women to live their best adventures. SEPTEMBER suits are designed for functionality and durability in and out of water. 

  • WhitePaws RunMitts – Susan Clayton, Founder: WhitePaws RunMitts specializes in patented, convertible, thumbless mittens invented for runners, walkers, and outdoor sports enthusiasts. The mittens are designed to accommodate fluctuating temperatures, as they can be worn all on, flipped to cool down, or pushed down the arm to completely cool off. 

  • Varlo – Soj Jibowu, Ed Chang, Jacob Brown, Co-founders: Varlo designs and manufactures best-in-class performance cycling, running, and multisport apparel to lower barriers and empower the will of every athlete to conquer the goals of tomorrow. Varlo is the creator of the industry’s first multisport hijab and full coverage retail apparel collection that Muslim women can comfortably wear to cycle, run, or swim. 

  • COBA – Hyung Seok (Peter) Lee, John Ko, Co-founders: COBA is an energy bar that offers a tasty and effective way to stay energized and alert throughout the day. Made from premium coffee and tea products, this functional snack is designed to provide sustained energy and focus, making it a great alternative to traditional energy drinks or supplements. 

  • Tough Cutie – Brittany Coleman, Founder: Tough Cutie makes high quality women’s merino wool hiking socks, designed to be better fitting, more supportive, and more durable to help active women hike longer and avoid blisters. 

  • Hootie Hoo – Xiaonan (Claire) Zhu, Founder: Hootie Hoo believes some of the best lessons and habits in life are learned outside. Hootie Hoo provides high quality technical apparel for children, so they can stay comfortable and spend more time outside. 

In addition to investment and programming, Navigate includes unique features such as: 

  • Connection to experts within REI and the outdoor industry who will lead workshops and provide guidance in go-to-market, production, wholesale, marketing and more. 

  • Award-winning services in branding, messaging, and presenting from program partner at R/GA Ventures

  • Access to Path Ahead Ventures mentors, who will provide office hours and guidance throughout the program. 

Navigate is part of Path Ahead Ventures’ multi-year $30 million commitment to partner with Black, Indigenous, Latina/o/x, Asian American and Pacific Islander founders as they start and scale their businesses in the outdoor industry. In addition to Navigate, Path Ahead Ventures offers support for early-stage founders through its Embark program. Path Ahead Ventures also provides direct equity investment and dedicated support for founders through its investment fund. In 2022, Path Ahead Ventures partnered with 39 entrepreneurs, provided $370,000 in grants, and invested $2.3 million in 11 companies. 

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 24 million members who expect and love the best quality gear, inspiring expert classes and trips, and outstanding customer service. In addition to the co-op’s many stores across the country, outdoor enthusiasts can shop at REI.com, REI Outlet or the REI shopping app. Everyone is welcome to shop REI, but members who join the co-op enjoy a range of benefits. More than a retailer, REI is a purpose-driven and values-led company dedicated to enabling life outside for all.