By Keller Northcutt
The founders of Alluvia Packraft in Grand Junction, Colorado are building inclusivity into their business model.
Mariana Cevallos and Mike Davlantes fell in love with packrafts during a trip on the Nizina River in the Wrangell Mountains of Alaska. They packed their camp gear and boats into backpacks and hiked for three days along the river, camping on sandbars and riverbanks along the way. When they reached the end of their hike, they unrolled and inflated the boats, floating back down the crystal-clear river, surrounded by majestic Alaskan mountains. It’s no wonder Cevallos and Davalantes have founded a new packrafting business in Colorado: Alluvia Packraft.
Based in Grand Junction, Alluvia Packraft has a bigger goal than just selling lightweight and durable boats. They are also working to improve accessibility to the outdoors for the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) community. Cevallos grew up on the arid coast of Lima, Peru. Although she spent time at the beach and occasionally hiking in the mountains, she considered herself mostly an “urban explorer.” When she moved to Vail for a study abroad program in college, she noticed the serious lack of people of color participating in outdoor recreation. From that point forward, Cevallos knew she wanted to find a way to get more of the BIPOC community into nature.
While in Vail, Cevallos met Davlantes, a Florida native who also did not grow up in an outdoorsy family. Davlantes had to learn the ropes on his own, joining the Boy Scouts to get outside. This fostered his love for nature, and through the Scouts he learned how to camp, climb, and raft.
Davlantes and Cevallos instantly connected, eventually marrying and moving to Grand Junction. Their first home together was an apartment, which lacked storage space for large rafts. Cevallos was drawn to packrafts because they were light and packable, making them the easiest way to get onto the water.
“We get out for a town float at least once a week all summer,” said Davlantes. “It’s the only way to stay sane while trying to start a business.”
While they had been avid users of packrafts for years, it was not until a trip to visit Davlantes’s aunt and uncle that they realized they should start building the boats themselves. When Davlantes shared a story from a recent packraft trip, his aunt said she had “never heard of a boat that was so easy to transport, store, and use.”
“That’s when we realized there was a huge gap in the market for casual paddlers who want to get on the water but don’t because they think they need a big boat to do it,” said Cevallos.
Even though there were already other packraft companies on the market, Davlantes and Cevallos felt that those businesses were targeting the “outdoor expert,” or people who go on multi-day, multi-sport backcountry adventures. They wanted to focus more on the urban and suburban explorer, people doing day floats, or those who simply needed an easier way to get on the water.
They began making their own prototypes and sourcing manufacturers, and in October 2021, Alluvia Packraft was born. They had friends test the boats and give feedback, and the first few months were filled with refinements and updates. They landed on three types of boats, each serving a different user and experience. The boats range from $649 to $1,199, making them a more affordable option than other packraft companies. At present, they are only available online, but they hope to find some retailers to carry the boats both locally and out of state.
Davlantes and Cevallos participated in regional business development opportunities like West Slope Startup Week and Startup Colorado’s Founder CO-Opetition Program last year, which helped them clarify their message and better understand how to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset. In June 2022, Alluvia was accepted into the Moosejaw Accelerator Program, an 8-week program that “provides access to educational and network resources, strategic mentorships, legal advice, and potential investors,” according to Moosejaw.
The program provided Davlantes and Cevallos with “outdoor industry-specific mentorship, guidance on building a qualitative and quantitative business plan, and coaching on how to sell to retailers,” said Cevallos.
Beyond growing their business, one of their biggest goals for the next few years is to build a partnership with a local community organization that serves historically underrepresented populations. They believe this is not only imperative for the success of their business, but will also help them make the outdoors a more inclusive, diverse, and safe space. As they explore partnership options, Davlantes and Cevallos are setting aside 3% of every sale to eventually donate. One option they are considering is working with the Eureka! McConnell Science Museum in Grand Junction to create a scholarship program for BIPOC youth to participate in their outdoor environmental education program.
Alluvia Packraft is joining a growing movement to increase diversity and accessibility in the outdoor industry.
“I want other people of color, especially women, to see me running this business and think, ‘I could do that too,’” Cevallos said.
A company founded on an ever-growing love for nature, their support for diversity and accessibility in the outdoor recreation industry makes them a welcomed addition to the Western Slope.