Private Equity Investing in Alaska: The Need for Corporate Strategic Investing

When I learned recently that Alaska is last in the US in private corporate venture capital investment in early stage ventures, it was not a surprise to me. However, after spending a couple months in Serbia witnessing a struggling economy without private investors, I returned to see more clearly the positive impact that current Alaska private investors have on our startup ecosystem. Early stage companies that need capital and want to continue to grow often exceed the investment capacity and tolerance of friends, family and founders before they get to a point that is “bankable.” These early stage companies can be an attractive investment opportunity for those with business experience who tolerate higher risk new ventures. This is where private investors come in. Private investors — individual and corporate — are the lifeblood of early stage venture creation in the US. Last year in the US, private venture investment totaled about $80 billion. (Crunchbase) This is not looking at later stage merger and acquisition activity, just the risk capital for early stage ventures. Last year in Alaska, looking for corporate venture capital, there was nothing reported...zero. (Actually, I know there were some deals, but they were not enough to be captured or reported.) Individual private investors, often referred to as angels, invest for many reasons, of which a financial return is only one and may not even be the most compelling reason. Without angel investors, a startup ecosystem is incomplete. It is not incomplete just because of the missing private money; it is missing the practical experience, direct constructive advice, and real world perspective guiding founders’ decisions and methods. Until you are at the table with a checkbook and pen in hand, choosing to give your personal money to another person to use and hopefully make money for you, it's hard to appreciate the difference in perspective and advice you have to offer and the commitment you are making to a founder. It takes an experienced angel investor at the table, one who could invest but chooses to offer sage advice instead, to say, “you have great idea, but it’s not an investable business...yet!” Hearing such feedback from a potential future investor is invaluable. To succeed, early stage founders need that practical support from angel investors more than general encouragement to be an entrepreneur. For corporate investors, the value and motives are similar but with some different outcomes. Companies use corporate venture capital investing to gain valuable insight into new and adjacent market trends; test out new technologies without having to enter the market under their own company name; learn about new teams and potentially valuable recruitment opportunities; and sometimes, for the first-rights to continue investing and potentially acquire a valuable new business unit. For some it's a financial investment strategy, but more often it is a how the company innovates. Where an angel is looking for an outcome related to the vicarious thrill of a new company growing and a financial outcome, the corporate venture investor is seeking strategic market intelligence, new business unit opportunities and talent, while also achieving a reasonable financial return.  In Alaska we have a number of organized private investor activities such as the 49th State Angel Fund and its funds and the Alaska Investor Network. What we are missing are strategic private corporate venture investments in our early stage ecosystem. Active private corporate funds stimulate a region, competing for investment opportunities while influencing the type of new ventures that align with known markets and the needs of the existing companies. A few large companies that do business in Alaska have national investment funds seeking out innovations and startups, but they have not been active in our startup ecosystem. While there are a few examples of early strategic investments such as BP’s early engagement with Dowland-Bach Corporation helping them grow to an international controls equipment manufacturer, we’ve not seen the emergence of Alaska corporate startup investing as our efforts to diversify our economy have increased. There are many successful Alaska-grown companies that have been acquired by an Alaska native corporation or a national company. However, we don’t yet have an Alaska-grown business that has matured into developing its own active corporate venture capital investing programs in the state. Often times, and I’d argue it is necessary, vibrant startup ecosystems have locally grown companies that become strategic investors in the region; Microsoft in Washington and Nike in Oregon are examples. During my time volunteering in Serbia, I was confronted with an emerging innovation ecosystem that had essentially no active private investment from individual or corporate investors. The ecosystem was out of control—missing the test for investability, the advice and mentoring of experienced private investors. The ecosystem lacked the necessary filtering and crucible that speeds up the demise of one idea or team in favor of the next better idea and team that can execute. The engagement and feedback from private investment is essential to a healthy innovation ecosystem. I came back to Alaska with a fresh perspective and appreciation for the early stage private investors who have been actively participating in our startup community by mentoring, judging, evaluating, saying no — and sometimes saying yes — and investing. I also brought back a renewed commitment to addressing the last major missing element of our innovation ecosystem, the private corporate venture capital investors. Driven by their need for innovations and growth, these corporate interests will unlock next wave of private investment in Alaska by uniquely focusing us on creating new ventures that address the real and practical challenges companies and communities in Alaska are facing. When they do, I won’t be surprised to see Alaska become a national innovation leader in private venture investing, leveraging our legacy assets to create a new diversified value-added economy with statewide multigenerational opportunities. Alaska Startup Week is an opportunity for entrepreneurs to connect across the state and is a collaborative effort by multiple organizations to diversify Alaska’s economy, largely led by entrepreneurs. This year, Alaska Startup Week has grown from three communities to ten, with over 70 events in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Sitka, Kenai, Soldotna, Palmer, Bethel, Homer, and Seward. Alaska Startup Week is on Facebook. Ky Holland assists UAF students, staff and faculty with technology commercialization. He is also a fund manager of the Alaska Accelerator Fund and private angel investor and is working with a couple struggling technology startup companies that are looking for more investors.

Startup Week 2018: This kid, I've seen him before

This kid, I've seen him before. Now I remember where I know him from. One time I was his entrepreneurship coach for about two hours. He came up with the "efficient pizza carrier" thing. I recall being shell shocked by his enthusiasm (and no, I still don't really understand the product he's trying to sell). But I know this: Seeing him now, this kid has a new binder he's put together on it. It holds sketches, designs, cost analyses. And tonight, he's out in public, with that giant binder. Talking to two older people. Why? He's tearing through a customer interview, just as he was trained to do as a new entrepreneur. He's asking questions about consumer pizza purchases, ordering and delivery patterns. The interviewees look a little stunned. He's diving in, punching through: Trying to identify how often these people order pizza, whether their habits will help make his product a likely seller. Now he's moved on to his next customer interview. He's talking to someone in a wheelchair. He just walks up to people and asks to interview them, immune to the looks. To be fair, after a moment of two of hesitation, people are generally happy to talk. After all, Alaska is both a community of independent thinkers and warm people. We also know what really matters when it comes to entrepreneurship. Interview nine. What matters is this kid, the one putting his head down. What matters is that he's working to get it done. What matters may not be what he builds today, but what he builds tomorrow. And what really matters? As a community, we support him. My hope is that we enable and support the people willing to take risks to create value for both themselves and Alaska, the people who forge their own path. We can only benefit from people trying and working hard to build new companies in our state. Entrepreneurship is a team sport and the most difficult of challenges, and as a community it's my hope we support entrepreneurs of all kinds, regardless of the size of the firm they're trying to build: From African restaurants to beverage distributors, hot dog carts to oil service companies, breweries to the next GCI — all of this private enterprise matters, every single little bit of it. It creates dynamism, energy, wealth. Alaska needs all of that. Thinking back to the first time I met this kid, here's what I remember: I sat down with him, asked him questions, and was taken aback by his confidence. This is just my first business, he told me. Win or lose, this is an affordable risk I can take, a small step. I can do this. Alaska and entrepreneurship It's Alaska Startup Week from Nov. 9 to 18. From Bethel to Juneau to communities in between, events are stretching across our state that both celebrate and train entrepreneurs. These events also offer opportunities for people to connect. At the 49th State Angel Fund, after six years of working away to build Alaska's entrepreneurial ecosystem, we're starting to see results: According to a 10-year rolling Kauffman Foundation data set analyzed by the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development, the state is now second in the nation per capita at producing startups, third at producing new entrepreneurs. If we make Alaska one of the most entrepreneurial places in the nation, we'll all benefit. We need you to be part of this discussion. So come out, join us, we welcome you: Find the list of events for Alaska Startup Week online at alaska.startupweek.co. Alaska Startup Week is an opportunity for entrepreneurs to connect across the state and is a collaborative effort by multiple organizations to diversify Alaska’s economy, largely led by entrepreneurs. This year, Alaska Startup Week has grown from three communities to ten, with over 70 events in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Sitka, Kenai, Soldotna, Palmer, Bethel, Homer, and Seward. Alaska Startup Week is on Facebook. Joe Morrison is Director of the 49th State Angel Fund.

Family, Friends, and Fools: The Case for Being A Fool With Your Money

Throughout Alaska Startup Week, you have been reading about why startups are important. They are the source of job growth, contribute to new economic growth, and solve the problems of consumers. Yet, only a small number of startups are funded, and those that are funded are not always the most impactful and viable businesses. Funded founders simply have more access to high wealth networks and subsequently are a very homogenous group. In particular, women and minorities receive much less funding than their male and majority counterparts. Only 0.2 percent of venture capital funding goes to businesses owned by women of color, 1 percent to minority-owned businesses, and 2 percent to women-owned businesses. Of all businesses in the United States, 39 percent of businesses are owned by women and 29 percent owned by people in a minority group. Business ownership for women and minorities has been on the rise, but venture capital to these groups has remained stagnant. Why? The startup community at large has not intentionally addressed this issue and taken action to increase equitable funding. In order to combat this problem, we will explore the importance of meritocratic funding as well as the forefront issue preventing women and minority business owners from receiving venture capital, the wealth gap. Knowledge is power, but action is all that really matters. We will outline action items for every community member. Now is the time to take action and address the funding gap. To begin, we as humans tend to surround ourselves with people like us. This tendency, is also true when investors are selecting founders. Investors tend to fund people similar to themselves, missing high-value deals and excluding a large portion of entrepreneurs. Just to illustrate how pervasive this is: 75 percent of venture capital goes to three US metro areas. According to the The Innovation Blind Spot by Ross Baird, only 15 percent of billion-dollar companies are in the industries with the highest market potential, and as we covered previously, women and minorities receive substantially less funding. Check out The Innovation Blind Spot for a more comprehensive look at the effects of funding based on network ties. Venture capitalists need to do better. The lack of venture capital funding going to women and minorities stems from a variety of causes; the most pressing of which is the lack of women and minority business owners being ready for, seeking out, and pitching to get venture capital funding. Often, funding a business happens in stages. Starting out, most businesses are self-funded. Then, they move to some version of bridge funding to grow. This funding largely comes from the affectionately dubbed family, friends, and fools round meaning receiving funding from an entrepreneur’s personal network. Bridge funding may also include loans, grants, and on the rare occasion angel funding. After this stage, businesses may pitch for venture capital funding. Women and minority business owners rarely get to this stage and are even less likely to get funded after they reach this stage. The wealth gap has the greatest impact on both the self-funding stage and the bridge funding stage. The wealth gap has stemmed from many discriminatory practices in housing, land acquisition, tax structures, business laws, etc. against particular groups most often women, people in a minority groups, and immigrants. While most of these discriminatory practices are illegal today, their use in the past has led to many groups having minimal access to asset ownership. Therefore, they are unable to pass down as many assets to the next generation, thus creating a cycle leading to the substantial wealth gap. Without assets, it is difficult to receive bridge funding. More importantly, the wealth gap negatively impacts access to family, friends, and fools funding. As we said before, people surround themselves with people like them. It is true of investors. It is also true of entrepreneurs. People with less net assets are more likely to have lower asset holding networks. Therefore, people most affected by the wealth gap are also less likely to have access to networks that are able to provide bridge funding. In turn, without access to bridge funding, these entrepreneurs will likely not get to the venture capital funding stage. With a problem this substantial, what can you do? We promised you action items and here you are: Community members, BE the “fool”. Support founders that do not have access to bridge funding. Participate in their crowdfunding initiatives and/or become an accredited investor. Kiva Zip, Kickstarter, and Indiegogo are all prime platforms to do this as well as through intrastate crowdfunding. If you have a net worth of at least $1 million excluding your primary residence or you make $200,000 per year or more, become an accredited investor and invest in diverse businesses. Reach out to the Alaska Investor Network for more information on how to become an accredited investor. Funders and entrepreneurs, expand your networks. Alaska Startup Week is a great starting point. Go to an event that you normally would not attend. Fund managers, create diverse teams within your organization. While funds have generally looked at funding potential $1 billion unicorn companies, fund more zebra companies. Unlike unicorns, zebras are real and are focused on growth and social responsibility. They have less returns, but overall, they create more equitable and responsible communities and industries. Go forth and fund! Alaska Startup Week is an opportunity for entrepreneurs to connect across the state and is a collaborative effort by multiple organizations to diversify Alaska’s economy, largely led by entrepreneurs. This year, Alaska Startup Week has grown from three communities to ten, with over 70 events in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Sitka, Kenai, Soldotna, Palmer, Bethel, Homer, and Seward. Alaska Startup Week is on Facebook. Julia Casey focuses on assisting startups through education, technical assistance, and identifying finance opportunities at the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development. Her background is in e-commerce and she is experienced in working with entrepreneurial ventures at varying stages of development and scope. Julia focuses on capacity building within Alaska’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and developing digital tools for use by startups across the state. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in International Business and in Management: Entrepreneurship from Creighton University with foci on social entrepreneurship, business ethics, and equitable innovation. Mathieu LaVigne is an Army All Source Military Intelligence Lieutenant within the 1-501 PIR, 4-25 Airborne Brigade and an active member of the NAACP. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse with particular foci on racial inequality in policy, public office, and bureaucratic structures as well as historic trends of racial and gender discrimination. He has done extensive research in public opinion of women serving in combat roles within the United States Military.

Startup Week 2018: Women and Entrepreneurship in Alaska

49th State Brewing Co.’s theater buzzed with excitement. Not because a casting producer from Shark Tank was visiting Alaska for the first time (she was, and loved it), not because of a giant blow-up shark “airswimming” above the audience (although that was pretty cool), and certainly not because of the generous prize money (there wasn’t any). But because all five randomly selected competitors for the Vitalize Alaska Pitch Competition were women, and each of them gave a dynamic, compelling performance — some said the best overall showing they’ve seen in Alaska. This is not the only story of entrepreneurial ladies leading the field in Alaska. For those of us working in Alaska’s entrepreneurship ecosystem it feels like the male dominated world of entrepreneurship is changing, and recently released data corroborates this feeling: Alaska leads the nation in percentage of women-owned employer firms. Nationally, the number of women owned businesses is expected to increase 1.5 times faster than the average; however, women are still struggling in key areas that can have weighty impacts on business growth and outcomes. A 2017 report by the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, Tackling the Gender Gap: What Women Entrepreneurs Need to Thrive, identified 3 key areas: Few role models and a lack of mentors that contribute to the perception that entrepreneurship is a male-only endeavor. A gender pay gap that hurts the ability of women to be successful entrepreneurs. Unequal access to startup funding and financing streams that leave women with fewer credit options and a small portion of venture capital. Mentorship On the mentorship side of the equation, 48 percent of female founders report that a lack of available advisers and mentors limits their professional growth. A lack of mentorship can seriously hamper the creation of new businesses and business growth. Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), a non-profit mentorship organization, recently found that entrepreneurs with mentors are five times more likely to actually launch businesses than those without. 60Hertz Energy is a computerized maintenance management system for power plant operators and energy professionals. Founder Piper Foster Wilder says that mentors have been invaluable to her strategic and financial decision making process, and that her experience has been largely free of gender bias that would prevent progress. “I’ve been taken seriously and supported by a lovely circle of men who primarily compose the investor community here,” says Foster Wilder. “On the other hand, those I’ve turned to when most vulnerable or unclear about terms, or unaware of how to proceed have been women.” Pay gap impacts According to Tackling the Gender Gap, “researchers have found that college-educated women make about 90 percent as much as men at age 25, but only 55 percent as much at age 45.” Considering that the Kauffman Foundation says the peak age for a woman to start a business is between 45 to 55, many female entrepreneurs have already experienced decades of wealth discrimination by the time they launch their first business, placing them at a disadvantage in terms of self-funding with savings or pursuing traditional debt financing. In Alaska, the gap is closing. A 2018 US Bureau of Labor Statistics report says that in 2017 Alaskan women earned about 81.8 percent of what men earn. Funding imbalance According to Fortune, nationally women receive around 2.2 percent of all venture funding, and women of color are awarded an even smaller fraction of that at 0.2 percent. This is a statistic that finds parallels in the realm of traditional funding as well. Women receive just 16 percent of all conventional small business loan, and 4 percent out of the total dollar amount awarded. Katherine Jernstrom, a local investor and founder of The Boardroom. (Courtesy Photo) Despite the funding imbalance, studies have shown that women-led companies funded through venture capital processes see a 41 percent higher return on equity and 56 percent better operating results. Katherine Jernstrom, a local investor and founder of The Boardroom, says female entrepreneurs and female investors bring different sensibilities to the table. “In my experience, women tend to have a better ability to listen and learn, and they communicate and ask for help more frequently. This leads to highly coachable entrepreneurs who are open-minded and flexible to feedback and change. Conversely, arrogance and defensive behavior is a quick way to kill a company (and a relationship with your investor)." And yet, optimism! The data shows that change is happening, albeit slowly. Although women-led businesses report higher returns on investment and better than average operating results, persistent obstacles appear to limit growth in the number of women-owned businesses. The gaps in the entrepreneurial network indicate major hurdles for women to overcome on their road to success, hurdles which add an additional layer to an already difficult road for entrepreneurs to travel. So the question that remains is how to change that? Individuals within the entrepreneurial ecosystem (or with resources to contribute to the entrepreneurial ecosystem) can make a significant impact with small changes. Use the resources out there. Although it’s just one organization among a whole host of local resources, the Alaska Small Business Development Center offers technical assistance and business consulting to clients. Women looking for mentorship or business guidance should reachout. Think about using your resources. If you have business or industry experience, think about becoming a mentor. If you have funding resources, think about becoming an investor. But also, if you know a female entrepreneur support her where you can. Encourage her, provide support, and add connections to her network. Cultivate a culture of inclusion in the ecosystem. Dedicated resources designed to encourage female entrepreneurship and support women-owned businesses, including advising and programming, could expand the network for women entrepreneurs. Greater recognition of the barriers to entry for women entrepreneurs through public education could serve to reduce the biases they face. For more information on the research discussed here check out the University of Alaska’s recently released Women and Entrepreneurship in Alaska brief. Alaska Startup Week is an opportunity for entrepreneurs to connect across the state and is a collaborative effort by multiple organizations to diversify Alaska’s economy, largely led by entrepreneurs. This year, Alaska Startup Week has grown from three communities to ten, with over 70 events in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Sitka, Kenai, Soldotna, Palmer, Bethel, Homer, and Seward. Alaska Startup Week is on Facebook. Richelle Johnson is the Lead Analyst for the University of Alaska Center for Economic development where she uses her expertise in quantitative analysis, economics, and research to advance economic development on behalf of CED’s clients and Alaska’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Entrepreneurship: the Right Kind of Midlife...Opportunity

Think quickly, envision three successful entrepreneurs: who comes to mind? If Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, or Sergey Brin pop into your head, you aren’t alone. American culture celebrates maverick, young upstarts who upend industries while leading their companies toward unprecedented success. While Silicon Valley and the image of ping-pong playing, youthful CEO’s have become an iconic part of the national consciousness, they aren’t an accurate depiction of a typical entrepreneur - or at what point in their lives they’ll successfully start their companies. Information from the Kauffman Foundation shows Americans aged 55 to 64 consistently start businesses at higher rates compared to those aged 25 to 34. Further, recent research by the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development in their Alaska: State of Entrepreneurship report shows half of Alaskan entrepreneurs are 55 or older while only 6% are younger than 35. At age 39 Alaskan Andre Horton reflects the characteristics of many entrepreneurs. He’s close to the median age of 42, but like almost half of Alaskan entrepreneurs, he’s previously pursued other businesses. Along with his commercial photography enterprise, dReFoto, a sampling of Andre’s businesses include those in marketing, advertising, public relations, software, and general contracting. Compared to someone younger, his experience and expertise will prove valuable as he launches his newest one, a light manufacturing co-working hub in the center of Anchorage. Unlike Andre, Kim Champney and Dr. Birgit Hagedorn are first-time business owners but previously spent significant time in their industries before starting their businesses in 2016 and 2017. Kim Champney discussing Alaskan Direct Support Service Professional development. (Photo/Ciara Servantian) Kim Champney started Champney Consulting after working 18 years in nonprofit social services agencies. Kim started her business for a mix of personal and professional reasons but her main catalyst was not being excited about walking into her agency’s office any more. Currently quite successful, Kim doesn’t believe she would have been able to maintain her business if she’d started it earlier: “Most of my consulting work uses the experience I gained in the field and, equally important, many of the relationships. It was definitely the right time; I could not have done it earlier.” Along with financial stability, Kim’s experience underlines another key factor older entrepreneurs bring to their endeavors: human capital. Human capital is comprised of a person’s education, experience, knowledge, and skills. There are few shortcuts for gaining these time-tested assets and they prove to be important for making strategic business decisions. Dr. Birgit Hagedorn doing fieldwork in Alaska. (Photo/Eva Enkelmann) Similarly to Kim, internationally known Dr. Birgit Hagedorn has found her years of research, field work, teaching, and serving on boards has helped her operate her business and gain clients. Social capital, like human capital, is an important differentiator because entrepreneurs rely on their contacts and social networks to make key alliances. Birgit finds that her many connections throughout Alaska, along with other Arctic regions, help her quickly establish trust and work on projects. After years in academia, Sustainable Earth Research has allowed Birgit to see the industry side of the geochemistry and geology and besides offering workshops in environmental data collection, Birgit also provides research analysis, consults with analytical chemistry research laboratories, and works in environmental remediation. Although she’s still adjusting to being a business owner, Birgit is thrilled she finally took the leap: “After having a successful career, it felt exciting to change my lifestyle and to have the freedom to develop my own ideas.” Besides the entrepreneurs themselves, those who support them — the institutions, investors, and economic development organizations — need to make sure they aren’t being swept away by youthful enthusiasm. Compared to younger entrepreneurs, older entrepreneurs have almost twice, 1.8 times, the average return on investment. Released in April 2018, data collected for the National Bureau of Economic Research working paper shows venture capitalists tend to bet on relatively young founders when: Our primary finding is that successful entrepreneurs are middle-aged, not young...we find no evidence to suggest that founders in their 20s are especially likely to succeed. Rather, all evidence points to founders being especially successful when starting businesses in middle age or beyond, while young founders appear disadvantaged. (p. 5) Alaska Startup Week is a good opportunity to correct course and re-examine who we envision and support as entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurial ecosystems often seek to predict the entrepreneurial traits which lead to the creation of successful new firms. When this is done, it is important to understand that age does predict success but in quite the inverse way of current popular thought. According to NBER, “The highest success rates in entrepreneurship come from founders in middle age and beyond.” (p. 29) Learning valuable lessons through failing fast, mentorship, and developing minimal viable products provides younger entrepreneurs opportunities to develop human and social capital and catch up with their older peers. Still, with all other factors being equal, the next time you predict the success of a new venture, your best bet is to go with the older entrepreneur. Alaska Startup Week is an opportunity for entrepreneurs to connect across the state and is a collaborative effort by multiple organizations to diversify Alaska’s economy, largely led by entrepreneurs. This year, Alaska Startup Week has grown from three communities to ten, with over 70 events in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Sitka, Kenai, Soldotna, Palmer, Bethel, Homer, and Seward. Alaska Startup Week is on Facebook. Jacqueline Summers is an entrepreneur advocate who is an active member of the Alaskan Entrepreneurial Ecosystem through her contributions to Alaska Startup Week, Alaska Startup Weekend, the Global Entrepreneur Network and other entrepreneurial events. She works for the University of Alaska Anchorage Business Enterprise Institute, owns Paxaro Solutions, and serves on the King Tech High School Entrepreneurship and Enterprise board. Her absolute favorite job title is “mom’ and she is inordinately proud of the two amazing people in the world who call her that, Malin and Shay.

Entrepreneurs inventing Alaska’s future

Like so many kids, Ben Kellie wanted to be an astronaut. He may not be going to outer space himself anytime soon, but Kellie knows more than a few things about launching rockets into orbit. As co-founder of The Launch Company, an Anchorage-based startup, he thinks Alaska could become a leader in the commercial space industry. Working for Elon Musk’s SpaceX after college, Kellie was part of the engineering team for several commercial launches. He noted that each launch pad had to be built almost from scratch for each company sending a rocket into space. “Imagine if every airline had to build its own airport, the cost to fly anywhere would be astronomical,” he says. Much of this young industry focuses on creating newer and better rockets but overlooks the inefficiency and complexity of the launch itself. That’s where The Launch Company comes in. Kellie and team use a standard set of operating principles gained from past experience helping design and build multiple sites to simplify the process. As an example, the company designed fueling fittings (now built in Palmer) that can be used across many different sizes and types of rocket. They are robust, reliable, and prevent the companies from having to design their own custom hardware, saving time and money. He likens these to USB chargers for phones as an improvement over the first generation of cell phones that had a bewildering array of different cord types. As I write these words, entrepreneurs like Kellie are working on the next Alaska economy. In addition to commercial space, Alaskans are developing marine and aviation technologies, renewable energy systems, virtual reality and augmented reality startups, innovative food and drink businesses, and products used in outdoor recreation — to name just a few. We have a community of specialized investors who understand the risks and dynamics of putting cash into startup companies. Our ecosystem of support organizations includes an engaged university system, all levels of government, and — most importantly — entrepreneurs who help other entrepreneurs through collaboration and mentorship. Fortunately, Alaskans are a very entrepreneurial group. In 2017, Alaska ranked third among the states for the number of businesses launched per capita, according to the Kauffman Foundation. We also lead the way in closing the gender gap in business ownership, traditionally a male-dominated pursuit: Alaska has the highest percentage of women-owned firms of any state. Altogether, startups in Alaska create 4,000 to 6,000 jobs each year, accounting for the overwhelming majority of net private sector employment growth during most years. There is still work to be done to empower Alaska’s entrepreneurs, however. Workforce shortages in key areas like software development limit the growth potential for high tech startups. The state ranks near the bottom for knowledge jobs, as defined by the New Economy Index. Despite being a national leader in launching companies, Kauffman ranks Alaska fourth from the bottom in scaling up, defined as growing to 50 employees within 10 years. We start plenty of businesses, but they tend to stay small. Yet Kellie sees unrealized potential in the Alaskan spirit of adaptability and ingenuity. His father ran an air cargo business throughout Bush Alaska, and he learned early to adapt and improvise, to patch things together with proverbial duct tape. The same kind of on-the-fly critical thinking helps him resolve some of the complex engineering problems that arise in planning for a rocket launch. “I’d like to catch that in a bottle,” Kellie says of the Alaskan entrepreneurial mentality. We rely on entrepreneurs to glimpse over the horizon and see what’s next. How might self-driving cars change the way we get to work and run our errands? How will virtual reality-based training change the way we learn? What jobs will the new high-tech industries bring? We may not know exactly what that next economy will look like, but we can be reasonably sure that entrepreneurs will be the ones who usher it in. Alaska Startup Week is an opportunity for entrepreneurs to connect across the state and is a collaborative effort by multiple organizations to diversify Alaska’s economy, largely led by entrepreneurs. This year, Alaska Startup Week has grown from three communities to ten, with over 70 events in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Sitka, Kenai, Soldotna, Palmer, Bethel, Homer, and Seward. Alaska Startup Week is on Facebook. Nolan Klouda is the Executive Director for the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development. Nolan’s areas of professional interest include feasibility analysis, rural economic development, entrepreneurship and innovation policy, and engagement between the public and private sectors. He is a Certified Economic Developer (CEcD) through the International Economic Development Council, is a board member for the University Economic Development Association, and serves on the Municipality of Anchorage Budget Advisory Commission.

State nets $28.1 million in Slope, Beaufort Sea lease sales

Exploration interest remained high in the state’s North Slope and Beaufort Sea annual lease sales held Thursday morning, which netted $28.1 million for the state treasury. Winning bids for the North Slope portion of the sale totaled about $27.3 million, the third highest amount since 1998, according to Division of Oil and Gas Director Chantal Walsh. Successful bidders spent about $848,000 for near shore Beaufort Sea leases, which is in line with historical averages, Walsh said. The state received bids on 133 tracts covering 223,680 onshore North Slope acres and eight Beaufort Sea tracts totaling 20,270 acres garnered bids, according to division officials. “We have a lot to be happy about — a very good lease sale,” Walsh said. A new player to Alaska, Lagniappe Alaska LLC, dominated the sealed-bid sale by winning rights to 120 leases over a large area south of Deadhorse along the Dalton Highway. State officials present at the sale knew little about Lagniappe and audience members speculated amongst themselves how to spell it (pronounced lan-yap) as the bids were read aloud. Lagniappe Alaska LLC was formed in the state on Nov. 7 and is based in Lafayette, Louisiana, according to filings with the state Division of Corporations, Business and Professional Licensing. No one came forward when Deputy Oil and Gas Director Jim Beckham asked if a Lagniappe representative was present at the bid opening. “We appreciate our new player,” Walsh said. Overall, Lagniappe spent $14.1 million to secure rights to 195,200 acres of state land, according to a division report of the North Slope sale. Not to be outdone, Spanish major Repsol, which along with Armstrong Energy discovered the large Pikka prospect, spent between $175 and $586 per acre on the few remaining available leases just to the south and east of the Pikka Unit. “Repsol is definitely here to play,” Walsh commented. Repsol committed just more than $13 million for 12 leases covering 26,560 acres, according to the lease sale summary. Caracol Petroleum and ASRC Exploration also bid on several of the dozen leases Repsol won. Australian-based Oil Search, which recently took over as operator of the Pikka Unit and is advancing the Nanushuk project, won several Beaufort Sea leases just offshore from Pikka. "The interest in unexplored areas and in the Nanushuk formation are both positive trends for the state," DNR Commissioner Andy Mack said in a formal statement. The one minor disappointment for state officials was a lack of interest in the three Special Alaska Lease Sale Areas, or SALSAs, the Division of Oil and Gas put up for bid for the first time. Despite coming with publicly available geologic data, the SALSAs — each covering multiple lease tracts — garnered no bids. Walsh said she is still happy the division took the time to compile and advertise the areas as it directed more traffic to the division’s website than ever before and gave officials insight into how to better direct interested parties to publicly available oil and gas geologic and well data. She added the concept of selling multiple leases in blocks is something the state will continue to evaluate but it’s too soon to tell if the current SALSAs will be put up for bid again in their current form. The Bureau of Land Management’s annual lease sale for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska is scheduled for Dec. 12 and will cover 2.8 million acres, according to a BLM release. Additionally, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management issued a notice of intent Nov. 15 laying out the agency's plans to draft an environmental impact statement ahead of a potential lease sale for federal outer continental shelf, or OCS, areas of the Beaufort Sea in late 2019. However, BOEM Alaska spokesman John Callahan noted that starting the EIS process does not assure a lease sale will be held as there are still numerous reasons the Interior Department could cancel the plan. The agency is taking public comment on the Beaufort OCS leasing proposal through Dec. 17. In late 2016 President Barack Obama's administration withdrew 115 million federally-controlled acres of Arctic OCS waters from leasing over concerns about the impacts oil and gas activity could have on the area's senstive ecosystem. President Donald Trump, in April 2017, issued an executive order to modify the language of the Obama administration's actions and deleted references to the Arctic OCS withdrawals. A coalition of environmental groups, led by Earthjustice, subsequently sued the Trump administration in federal Alaska District Court alleging the president exceeded his authority in his April 2017 order. A ruling on the case is pending and could prevent a 2019 Beaufort OCS sale. Editor's note: The original version of this story listed the net proceeds at $28.9 million, with $28.1 million of that from the North Slope portion. The headline and story have been updated to reflect the correct totals of $28.1 million total and $27.3 million from the Slope portion. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Dunleavy calls on former Oil and Gas lead Feige for DNR commish

Gov.-elect Mike Dunleavy has made former state Division of Oil and Gas Director Corri Feige his pick for Department of Natural Resources commissioner Wednesday afternoon. He announced the decision Wednesday afternoon during a brief speech at the Resource Development Council for Alaska’s annual conference in Anchorage. Dunleavy called DNR one of the most important agencies in the State of Alaska and said Feige is “the perfect choice to lead it, especially given our shared vision to revitalize our natural resource sector,” in a formal statement. “She has a proven track record,” he said when talking with reporters. Her experience and her knowledge is phenomenal.” Feige led the Division of Oil and Gas within DNR for a little more than a year under outgoing Gov. Bill Walker. She resigned abruptly shortly after Walker’s administration settled a months-long stalemate with BP over the information the company would provide state officials regarding its plans to prepare the Prudhoe Bay field for a potential gasline project. For her part, Feige said Wednesday that “maximizing our resources and getting the state’s economy back on track” will be a primary objective for DNR under her leadership. “When our resource partners are doing well Alaska is doing well,” she added. As DNR commissioner, Feige will oversee the roughly 103 million acres of state-owned land as well as the energy, mineral and timber resources that are owned by the state. Dunleavy has hinted at a plan he's said will be unveiled soon to transfer more state acres into private ownership as a way to spur development. Most recently, Feige worked as president of The Castle Mountain Group Inc., an Alaska-based oil and gas consulting firm. Feige is a geophysicist and engineer by training and has held numerous other oil and gas related positions in Alaska government and the private sector. Her appointment is subject to confirmation by the Legislature, but Feige is generally well respected by individuals familiar with her work in state government. Last week Dunleavy announced former Gov. Sean Parnell would advise him on the $43 billion Alaska LNG Project during the administration transition. Dunleavy also said Wednesday that he has asked the Walker administration to "freeze" the implementation of new regulations until his team has a chance to review them. “Our goal is to pause any new regulations before our team has had the opportunity to assess whether they are needed or will hurt the economy,” he said.   Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Pages

Subscribe to Alaska Journal RSS