The Sitka Food Co-op is one of 12 finalists in the 2017 Path to Prosperity (P2P) business development contest for Southeast Alaska food businesses.
The Co-op now moves into Round 2, where the 12 finalists will attend a business boot camp in Juneau this fall for mentoring and a chance to better develop their business models and plans. Two of the 12 finalists will be selected as winners in December, earning $25,000 in seed funding for consulting and technical services to develop their businesses.
The Sitka Food Co-op is the only Path to Prosperity finalist from Sitka, joining businesses from Craig, Haines (2), Hoonah, Juneau (2), Ketchikan, Klawock (2) and Wrangell (2). There were 38 food businesses from 10 Southeast Alaska communities that entered the contest this year, which is sponsored by Spruce Root Inc. (formerly Haa Aaní Community Development, a subsidiary of Sealaska), The Nature Conservancy, and joining as sponsor this year, the Southeast Alaska Watershed Council (SAWC). This is the fifth year of the Path to Prosperity contest, but the first year the contest has been focused only on food businesses.
“Being selected as one of the twelve finalists in the Path To Prosperity competition is quite an honor,” said Keith Nyitray, Sitka Food Co-op general manager. “Win or lose, it will be exciting to meet and network with the other 11 finalists, especially since we’re all food-related. Hopefully some of those finalists will even become local/regional suppliers to the Co-op.”
After encouraging a variety of businesses over the past few years, this year the focus was on building food security in the region. Eligible applicants this year had to be involved in the growing, harvesting, processing, aggregation, preparation or distribution of food. Local food systems and community food security are of critical importance to the region and the sponsors.
“Creating access to local foods is essential to building sustainable economies and resilient communities in Southeast Alaska,” says SAWC Local Foods Director Lia Heifetz. “We are excited to empower entrepreneurs and businesses who want to provide and catalyze local foods for our region in a way that balances the stewardship of land and water and positive social and cultural impact.”
“Alaskans import 95% of the food we consume each year, yet we’re surrounded by nature’s bounty,” says Path to Prosperity program manager Paul Hackenmueller. “The P2P program has a chance to kick-start innovative food entrepreneurs in southeast by providing key resources that will help grow our regional food economy. This is a great group of finalists with some creative and promising business concepts.”
The 12 finalists are:
|1. Beaver Sisters Kombucha
|3. Sarah J’s Espresso Shoppe
|4. Game Creek Family Orchard
|5. Happy Camper
|6. Panhandle Produce
|7. H20 Grow
|8. Klawock Cooperative Association
|9. Wildfish Cannery
|10. Sitka Food Co-Op
|11. The Local Isle
|12. Mighty Bear Roots
“The Sitka Food Co-op has always believed there was a demand for the services it could provide and these past six years have proven that to be true,” Nyitray said. “We’ve grown and in ways that were almost unimaginable at the very beginning and we are proud to have achieved the level of success and community involvement that we have so far.”
All 12 finalists will participate in a three-day business boot camp Sept. 29 to Oct. 1 in Juneau. All expenses including airfare and lodging will be covered by P2P for the businesses. The intense weekend of workshops covers topics such as business plan writing, sustainable business practices, and accessing financial capital. Spruce Root Executive Director, Ed Davis, highlights the importance of the workshop to building the regions entrepreneurial ecosystem. “The goal of the workshop is to deliver as much value as possible to the business owners, so when they return to their communities they’re able to implement what they’ve learned and build successful businesses, regardless of whether or not they win the competition,” says Davis. “This capacity development is how we build a culture of entrepreneurship in Southeast Alaska.”
“Of course, the next step in the competition is to focus on developing a detailed and forward looking business plan — our own personalized path to prosperity if you will,” Nyitray said. “Should we become one of the two winners of the competition that plan — along with all the technical and financial help the award will bring — will definitely be a huge boost to improving our operation and it would most certainly increase our ability to ‘Bring Good Food and Community Together.'”