Although wearing a gnome hat might seem like a strange fashion choice, for Edward Durham, the significance behind it is personal. When his father’s health was declining from cancer, Durham bought the hat to brighten the mood of his dad and other family members. After his father passed away, Durham kept wearing the gnome hat to keep his dad’s memory alive.
Durham even incorporated his gnome hat into his startup’s branding.
Chapel Hill-based GnomeXcursions—”GnomeX” for short—provides a group camping experience for those who want to attend festivals in North Carolina or surrounding states. Durham creates excursions around local events over the course of a weekend.
Camping is a fun and cost-effective way to spend time outdoors doing activities you love. Durham, who is GnomeX’s CEO and Founder, said many people opt for camping as opposed to staying in an expensive hotel during music festivals and other local events.
“There’s a lot of people who go and travel to shows out of state and they have to pay $100 (to) $200 a night for a hotel or Airbnb,” he said.
Durham graduated from NC State with a degree in history in 2022. He is part of summer 2023 cohort of NC State’s Miller Fellowship, a program to support recent grads who want to work fulltime on their startup—including with a monthly stipend of $1,000 to defray living expenses. [We have previously profiled Shipp and Sani of the same cohort].
“Being a Miller’s Fellow has also showed me that being in a cohort of like-minded entrepreneurs is incredibly helpful, to just talk to people who know what you’re going through,” said Durham.
GnomeX was founded in July of 2022 and has so far held nine events in North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee. Most of the campers are strangers, but some people come with their friends or family.
If anybody gets lost, Durham—who makes sure he is on location—can be contacted on his phone throughout the excursion. He always wears his noticeable gnome hat so his group can easily identify him in a crowd. Depending on the trip, Durham sets up music or has film showings for entertainment.
Durham sometimes reschedules his events due to bad weather for safety reasons. He is planning to hold two events every month in the summer season. Events are not held in the winter due to the colder temperatures.
The number of people camping with Durham depends on the event. At GnomeXcursions’ one year anniversary event in Wilmington, there were 70 attendees.
His next campground is located on Portsmouth Island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. To get to the site, Durham and his group will take a ferry to a nearby island and then take a different boat to the site. This experience will be for those who love hiking and backpacking, he said.
Durham provides transportation to and from the shows or festivals for all his campers, so they don’t have to worry about renting a car once they’ve gotten themselves to the campsite.
He has made it easy for new campers to join. Inexperienced campers just need to bring a sleeping bag or air mattress; the rest of the necessary materials—such as a tent—are included in the initial price. You can also choose to rent a cot for sleeping.
Durham has had an investor and is past the bootstrapping stage.
He said he wants to provide a fun camping experience for all types of campers.
“People come from all over the place, (from) different backgrounds, and have so many unique, different talents,” he said.