YEAR IN REVIEW: SBA chief hits Alaska, entrepreneurship ecosystem blooms
Alaska’s small businesses gained a boost during the July visit of a top official from the President Trump administration, head of the Small Business Administration Linda McMahon.
McMahon visited five local businesses that had gained from SBA loans and other programs in Anchorage on July 20 during her two-day trip to the state. On her “Ignite Tour,” McMahon said she wanted to view firsthand American businesses that benefited from the SBA loan program. She also wanted to mentor companies and startups about programs the SBA offers for government contractors, vets, women entrepreneurs and established companies that want to grow.
One of her stops was at the 49th State Brewery, where owners David McCarthy and Jason Motyka were able to show her their popular downtown restaurant and brewery. The co-owners won their second Small Businesspersons of the Year Award in 2017 and met McMahon during their Washington D.C. visit to receive their award.
One of the biggest benefits of McMahon’s visit was getting word out about the SBA resources available to help small businesses expand, McCarthy said.
“The SBA loan program is self-sufficient. One of the greatest advantages of the loan is that it extends over a longer period of time than a traditional bank would allow,” McCarthy said. “The SBA has a lot of programs to educate them to be more successful.”
Other business stops McMahon made were at Kaladi Brothers Coffee Co., the Ulu Factory, Heather’s Choice Meals for Adventuring and Wild Scoop Ice Cream.
McMahon also spent a day in rural Alaska where SBA programs have helped small village corporations.
She spent July 21 in Bethel touring local facilities and meeting with local business owners and CEOs at Yuut Elitnaurviat, translating to the “People’s Learning Center” for job training. McMahon then took a crowded boat to Kwethluk for lunch where she visited the construction site of the village’s new state-of-the-art school.
No. 2 First GEIR
The University of Alaska Anchorage welcomed its first occupant of the Global Entrepreneur in Residence program, Nigel Sharp, who’s racked up a string of accomplishments, including inventing a mouse cleaner and founding an international technology start-up.
Sharp’s position at UAA involves mentoring entrepreneurs and connecting or creating new startup resources. Community members, students and faculty are able to consult with Sharp. His first day in the 18-month position was June 19.
UAA will be in distinguished company with GEIR programs already established at Colorado, Massachusetts and New York universities. The position is funded by private contribution.
Sharp lost no time immersing his role into the community of startups and programs meant to lift more good ideas off the ground. Among his accomplishments in six months are founding the Ocean Technology Innovation Sprint, or OTIS, program based on the Google Ventures Sprint process that engages designers, engineers, marketers, finance and startup enthusiasts. They then formed interdisciplinary teams to build on ideas and innovation that solve big challenges in Alaska’s blue economy.
He also created an Alaska Innovation Map as a directory to inventory entrepreneurial resources in the state, facilitated a Fairbanks Startup Weekend, an Anchorage Startup Weekend, and created two Founders Circles that give participants the opportunity to share their experiences with peers.
Sharp is a British-Armenian entrepreneur and technologist, born in England and raised in Scotland and Ireland. He co-founded an international technology start-up Lionsharp, which produces Voiceboard, the world’s first gesture and voice-controlled presentation tool.
Akstartup.com will launch sometime after the new year, a site where Sharp’s innovation map will be available, along with an events calendar to guide startups and an innovation network of mentors.
“I’ve been impressed with the energy and ideas, the commitment to diversify the Alaska economy,” Sharp said. “Everything we’ve done has potential for continuation.
The next phase for Alaska will be exposure to more startup methodologies and lean tool sets.”
No. 3: Building a ‘blue economy’
From the annual Business Plan Competition to Startup Weekend and laying foundation for a blue economy, this year saw many opportunities launch for new technology and service sector companies aimed at diversifying Alaska’s economy.
The community was given a look at four new graduates of Launch Alaska’s 2017 businesses, its second group to complete the program, when they gave demonstrations to investors Oct. 13 at the Bear Tooth Theatre. Threat Informant Managed Services, 60Hertz, Helix and Attently completed this year’s business accelerator designed to propel them toward success.
The four-month mentorship came with $75,000 toward gearing up each business, and potential for up to $1 million from other investors. It lent each of these startups access to 50 mentors both nationally and locally, Launch Alaska Executive Director Issac Vanderburg said.
The “Blue Economy” became more than a phrase this year, a concept of sustainably developing Alaska’s vast ocean resources that came from the Bering Sea Fisherman’s Association in its formation of the Alaska Ocean Cluster Initiative.
The blue economy vision is that by 2040 Alaska would grow by 50,000 jobs and $3 billion in wages, approximately equal to the oil and gas industry today, said founder of the Alaska Ocean Cluster Initiative, Joel Cladouhos.
Alaska’s blue economy includes existing traditional sectors such as fisheries, coastal tourism and oil and gas, as well as additional “new” blue economy sectors such as ocean technology, renewable energy and marine biotechnology.
International and local speakers took up the many issues of blue technology and economy in September at OCEANS ’17, an international conference sponsored by cutting edge ocean technology-based organizations and businesses.
At the first collaboration between team members to develop products under the blue economy banner, the Ocean Technology Innovation Sprint took place Oct. 27 after five teams worked 40 days honing business plans.
Sharp and Cladouhos shepherded and mentored would-be entrepreneurs.
Five good ideas emerged from the contest: a seaweed nutrition bar, a new weir-based fish counting system, a generator powered by tidal energy, an education app to help people certify for marine occupational licensing positions and a fish recognition system to reduce bycatch waste.
No. 4: SBA hosts Amazon
The year rounded out in a workshop by the Small Business Administration Alaska Division office that brought Amazon north for the first time. Kyle Walker, the head of new business strategy for Amazon Exclusives from the Seattle headquarters, gave plenty of advice for entrepreneurs hoping to crack the code of a global market.
Amazon is now opening a “big door” to Alaska’s small business entrepreneurs, inviting them to sell their goods and services via the shopping giant’s network.
While there’s talk or hopes that the e-commerce giant might open an Alaska branch — and according to Amazon spokesman Erik Fairleigh, that’s not out of the question — the big topic of the day was how to use Amazon’s network.
The panel discussion offered advice on e-commerce from Jon Bittner, the director of the Small Business Development Center; Cat Mason, a SCORE mentor; Zoi Maroudas, founder of Bambinos Baby Food of Anchorage; and Chris Fischer, co-owner of Alaska Beach Stone Lamp of Homer.