Applications open for the 2020 Path to Prosperity competition, this year with a focus on minority-owned businesses

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

In a time of economic upheaval, resilient businesses are needed more than ever. The 2020 Path to Prosperity (P2P) Competition aims to identify and support resilient, relevant, and innovative Southeast Alaskan businesses. Many of the winning businesses over the years have focused on food, including in 2019 with Foundroot seed company of Haines and Village Coffee Company of Yakutat winning, but there have been guitar manufacturers, ski makers, and other non-food businesses that have won.

This year, the competition is focused on supporting minority-led businesses and is now accepting applications for its eighth competition cycle. Twelve applicants will be selected as finalists to advance to Round 2 and receive an all-expenses paid trip to Juneau to attend Business Boot Camp. They also will receive one-on-one mentorship and consulting that they can use to help write their business plans and grow their businesses after Boot Camp. Two winners will be selected from the pool of finalists to win $25,000 each to start or grow their businesses.

Each year, Path to Prosperity aims to improve the program for entrepreneurs. Based off of feedback from past program participants, key insights by the McDowell Group, and in an effort to further align the program with Spruce Root’s core mission, the program will be making the following changes:


In the past competition cycles, two winners were selected to win awards of $25,000 for consulting and technical assistance to grow their business. This year, the program will expand the use of these awards to include long-term capital expenditures, such as equipment.

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

“At Spruce Root, we believe that through the business planning process, entrepreneurs are able to identify what they really need to take their business to the next level. We want the award to align with that fundamental belief,” program administrator Ashley Snookes said. “We still want to see the award being used for the capacity development of the entrepreneurs, but we recognize that along with that development, entrepreneurs may want and need to purchase equipment or other fixed assets.”.

Awards will not be able to be used for short-term purchases such as payroll or rent but are open to be individualized according to the business plan. Businesses that are able to make a strong case for how their award purchases will catapult their business forward will stand a greater chance of winning the competition, especially for businesses that do so by emphasizing the triple-bottom-line impacts of their business.


COVID-19 is disrupting daily operations for businesses throughout the nation, and Southeast Alaska is no exception.

“Applications are open as usual beginning April 1st, but other aspects of the competition will adapt with the changing health and economic environments of today,” Snookes said.

Instead of conducting in-person community visits, Spruce Root will be working virtually with community catalysts and leaders to encourage entrepreneurs to apply. As Business Boot Camp in September nears, Spruce Root will hold Boot Camp in person only if it’s safe to do so. The content of Boot Camp will be adapted to meet the changing needs of consumers.

“Demand for products and services that remain relevant and meet the needs of consumers is still as strong as it was six months ago, but what consumers want and need has changed,” Snookes said. “More than ever, Path to Prosperity will deliver content that’s relevant to today’s economic climate.”

Businesses that are looking to develop new products or services to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic are strongly encouraged to apply.

Round 2 Scoring

This year, program administrators will be simplifying the Round 2 score sheet and providing finalists with a template that aligns with the new scoring guidelines.

“Business plans are as unique as the businesses they capture on paper. We hope that a shorter set of criteria and an optional template will enable entrepreneurs to work more clearly through what can be an intimidating and lengthy process,” Snookes said.

The program will also be shortening business plan submissions to a maximum of 30 pages (not counting the financial model). The template and shortened score sheet will go hand in hand with coaching and workshops from Spruce Root and other partner organizations to assist business as they develop business plans that work dynamically with their business.

Minority Focus

One of the unique opportunities in Path to Prosperity this year is the program’s focus on minority-led businesses.

“Southeast Alaska is a diverse region, and we hope the program will be especially beneficial to Alaska Natives and other minority communities this year,” Snookes said.

The 2020 program is sponsored largely by the Minority Business Development Agency, which defines minority-led businesses as United States citizens who are Asian, Black, Hispanic, Hasidic Jews, Native American, and Pacific Islanders. Ownership by minority individuals means the business is at least 51 percent owned by such individuals.

Timeline for 2019 Path to Prosperity Competition:

  • April 1, 2020 – Applications Open
  • May 31, 2020 – Applications Due at 11:59 PM
  • July 1, 2020 – Finalists Announced
  • September 18-20, 2020 – Business Boot Camp in Juneau, AK
  • December 7, 2020 – Round 2 Business Plans Due
  • February 2021 – Winners Announced

To apply or learn more, please visit

Over the past seven years, Path to Prosperity has received applications from 271 applicants in 23 Southeast Alaskan communities. We have trained 86 finalists at our award-winning Business Boot Camp and have awarded 15 finalists $510,000 to start or grow their business.

Path to Prosperity is a Spruce Root program that was started as a collaboration between Sealaska and The Nature Conservancy. Spruce Root is committed to assisting Southeast Alaska’s people and businesses to reach their full potential through loan capital and support services to promote economic, social, cultural, and environmental resiliency.