Startland News’ Startup Road Trip series explores innovative and uncommon ideas finding success in rural America and Midwestern startup hubs outside the Kansas City metro. This series is possible thanks to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which leads a collaborative, nationwide effort to identify and remove large and small barriers to new business creation.
BOULDER, Colorado — The mountains might have called, but Kansas City was the springboard Ben Nelson needed as he launched his startup — Huck Adventures.
“I was able to land jobs all over the country,” Nelson, founder of Huck Adventures, said of benefits his hometown provided him as he began his startup journey — building an outdoor recreation app that connects outdoor enthusiasts to each other and the resources they need to get outdoors — in 2005.
Click here to explore more about the mission behind Huck Adventures.
“I was a very outdoor person, loved the outdoors, was doing canoe trips in Missouri, biking, hiking, rock climbing … [but] I always had the problem of trying to connect and find someone to do [these] sports with,” he said, detailing the first trigger for what ultimately became Huck Adventures.
Fast forward to 2019 and Nelson is shredding snow in the mountains of Boulder, Colorado, and building Huck Adventures into a premiere experience in social entrepreneurship, he explained.
“I was looking at the best place to launch this type of app and all the data pointed to Colorado,” Nelson said, detailing his decision to move the startup in September.
“Colorado had the most people that participate in outdoor recreation and its become the heart and home of all outdoor industry companies.”
And with a first-of-its-kind app as revolutionary as Huck Adventures, there’s no better place for the founder to play, he added.
“Huck will utilize A.I. to make smart recommendations for users based on their own sport interests, skill level, location and availability. They’ll get recommendations such as users to connect with, events in their area, and nonprofits to get involved in,” he explained, highlighting the app’s ability to also serve as an education and public safety platform connecting users to certification and training and provide geolocation safety and check-in features that connect them to park rescue services.
Click here to check out Huck Adventures on Instagram.
With its ability rich features, Huck Adventures is more than a tech company, Nelson said. The real adventure is creating human connections.
“Every time I meet someone in person they relate to me way quicker,” he said of the 15 years he spent trying to build relationships with other outdoor enthusiasts.
“I wanted to be able to create an app that allowed people to connect no matter what sport you love to do based on skill level and availability [and] address about 69 million people that would like to get outside but don’t know who to do it with,” he said.
Taking connections a step further, Huck Adventures engages such populations with select events.
Click here to learn more about Huck Adventures’ events like Breckenridge Ski & Ride Weekend.
A byproduct, creating experiences for the tech company has opened other doors for Nelson, allowing him to share his entrepreneurial story — which largely includes his decision to leave college before graduating.
“I was at an event and I was talking with [two people] and I did not become relatable to them until I had told them that I dropped out of college, started three companies and then started a tech company without any tech background,” he detailed, further emphasizing the human impact on Huck Adventures and its process of creating customers.
“They actually thought I was college educated and that I come from money and I’m like, ‘No. I’m working seven different jobs to be able to fully fund this entire company.’”
While ideas might get entrepreneurs into important rooms, Nelson said it’s passion that lands them business — no matter their background.
“I started with videography, advertising and marketing and put all my skills I had learned over the years into a company that could really make an impact on the world — not only socially, but also through health and wellness,” he said in reference to ways he’s harnessed his passion and used it to build Huck Adventures.
While an entrepreneur’s past might seem less important than where they’re headed, no one should undervalue the power and influence of their personal backstory, Nelson noted.
“Even through all my travels, [my love for the outdoors] brought me back to how I was raised, how I grew up in [Liberty] Missouri. … I grew up learning to ski at Snow Creek. I built the app out in Kansas City.”
A great place to build with your head down, Kansas City ultimately lacked sufficient resources to keep Nelson and Huck Adventures in its ecosystem, he said.
“I was meeting with some climbing gym owners and I was meeting with other people in the industry, as well as doing some surveys while I was living in Kansas City, but small business groups, not so much,” he said of his interaction with the startup community and weak spots in its ability to give sound advice.
Resources needed to successfully sustain a startup like Huck Adventures needed to come from outside Kansas City and that shouldn’t be looked down upon, Nelson said.
“I went through some bad experiences to be honest. I used [a Facebook group] ] and got recommended a lawyer that wound up screwing up our entire legal status in Delaware — which cost me tons of money to fix,” he said, laughing while citing lessons learned.
Nelson still is keeping tabs on the metro’s evolving startup scene, he said.
“I feel like Kansas CIty has gotten better over the last three years with [regard to] the startup community, honestly. I’ve been keeping track of everything,” Nelson said. “But most of my insight [and interested customers] came from outside of the state.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.