Foundroot, Village Coffee Company win $25,000 each in 2019 Path to Prosperity business development contest

Nick Schlosstein, left, and Leah Wagner of Foundroot seed company man their farm stand in Haines. Foundroot was one of the 2019 winners of the Path to Prosperity business development competition.

Two Southeast Alaska businesses — Foundroot seed company of Haines and Village Coffee Company of Yakutat — recently were selected as winners of the 2019 Path to Prosperity economic development contest. As winners, Foundroot and Village Coffee Company were awarded $25,000 each for consulting and technical services. The winners were announced on Feb. 5, during the 2020 Mid-Session Summit hosted by Southeast Conference in Juneau.

Foundroot is an open-pollinated seed company run by Leah Wagner and Nick Schlosstein in Haines that sells vegetable, herb, and flower seeds proven for Alaskan growing conditions. On their small sustainable farm in Haines, Foundroot is growing seed varieties that are adapted to Alaska’s climatic challenges and have sent seeds to over 65 different communities throughout the state. Teaching their customers how to save their own seeds and supporting their gardening and farming endeavors is integral to the company’s philosophy. Foundroot’s mission is for all Alaskans to feel confident growing food, no matter the scale, and fostering self-reliance and a deeper sense of food security for us all.

Justyne Wheeler of Village Coffee Company in Yakutat. Village Coffee Company was one of the two 2019 winners of the Path to Prosperity competition.

Village Coffee Company is a drive-thru espresso shop in Yakutat run by Justyne Wheeler that serves custom coffee drinks and homemade pastries crafted from locally-sourced ingredients, including fresh salmonberry upside down cake and spruce tip tea. In the small community of Yakutat, Village Coffee Company has found itself serving many regulars, who oftentimes drive up in 4x4s or forklifts to get their daily cup. Village Coffee Company works closely with the community to be as environmentally sustainable as possible. They provide coffee grinds for composting; use compostable stir-sticks, cups, and packaging; and source locally when possible.

These two companies were chosen from 13 finalist businesses from Southeast Alaska (including the Sitka Food Co-Op and M/V Adak Short- and Long-Term Rentals from Sitka) that participated in the Path to Prosperity’s Business Boot Camp in September in Juneau. They were chosen from 43 businesses from 12 Southeast Alaska communities that applied for the 2019 Path to Prosperity contest.

The following businesses were selected as 2019’s finalists:

  • Business Name, Applicant, Location
  • Alaska Costal Seaweed, Theresa Abbas, Juneau
  • Around the Bay Lodging, Susan Ritchie, Wrangell
  • Foundroot, Leah Wagner and Nick Schlosstein, Haines
  • Gale Force Gardens, Stephanie Jurries, Craig
  • Jellyfish Donuts, Brianna Krantz, Ketchikan
  • Kaawu Shellfish Co., Anthony Lindoff, Hoonah
  • Kootéeyaa Koffee House, Lee Wallace, Saxman
  • M/V Adak Short- and Long-Term Rentals, Brendan and Rachel Jones, Sitka
  • Sagebrush Dry Gear, John Peterka, Kake
  • Sitka Food Co-Op, Keith Nyitray, Sitka
  • Tamico, Inc., Carrie J. K. Martinsen, Petersburg
  • Tommaso Shellfish, James Greeley, Whale Pass
  • Village Coffee Co., Justyne Wheeler, Yakutat

An aerial view of the gardens at Foundroot.

At Boot Camp, the finalists learn about triple-bottom-line principles, worked with mentors, and received one-on-one counseling on how to develop their business models and plans. Following this intensive business training weekend, the finalists spent two months working with Spruce Root business coaches to create thorough business plans and pitch videos to be submitted to the judges. The winners are selected based on the feasibility, social impact, and environmental sustainability of their businesses.

Path to Prosperity is run by Spruce Root, Inc., and is made possible through a partnership with The Nature Conservancy and the Sustainable Southeast Partnership. Since the first competition in 2013, Path to Prosperity has received over 300 applications from Southeast Alaskan small business owners and entrepreneurs across 22 communities. The program has trained 89 finalists at Business Boot Camp and awarded 15 winners $510,000 to build their businesses. All of the participants have been trained in the “triple bottom line” approach to building a business by learning to measure their profitability as well as the environmental and social impacts of their business. Previous competition winners include Skyaana Coffee Co. (Klawock), Barnacle Foods (Juneau), The Salty Pantry (Petersburg), Port Chilkoot Distillery (Haines), Icy Straits Lumber (Hoonah), and others.

The Village Coffee Company trailer.

Spruce Root is an Alaska Native-run CDFI (Community Development Financial Institution) that provides local entrepreneurs with access to business development and financial resources in the form of loan capital, business coaching, workshops, and competitions. Together these programs support both new and existing businesses in Southeast Alaska and empower business owners through increased self-sufficiency.

Applications for the 2020 Path to Prosperity competition will open on April 1 and will close on May 31. This year there will be a focus on minority-run businesses.

To learn more about Path to Prosperity or Spruce Root’s other services (such as small business loans), visit their website at or email