Do you think you have a great idea for a food business or product from Sitka? Do you grow food, fish for food, or cook food in Sitka? The Sitka Local Foods Network is hosting the sixth annual Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest in an effort to spark local food entrepreneurs so we can make more local food available to residents and visitors. The contest entry deadline is Friday, March 17.
This contest will provide two $1,500 kicker prizes to help entrepreneurs launch or expand their food businesses. The contest is open to food businesses and individuals making and selling food products in Sitka, Alaska. All food business ideas must be geared toward getting more locally grown, harvested and/or produced food into the Sitka marketplace through sales in grocery stores, the Sitka Food Co-Op, the Sitka Farmers Market, restaurants, or individual marketing (such as a community supported agriculture/CSA or community supported fisheries/CSF program).
“The Sitka Local Foods Network’s mission is to get more locally harvested and produced food into the diets of Southeast Alaskans,” said Charles Bingham, Sitka Local Foods Network board president. “For the past decade we’ve offered entrepreneurs a chance to sell their produce, bread and fish at the Sitka Farmers Market, grown produce to sell at the market through St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm, and provided a garden education program to residents. We think this contest is the next step toward getting more local food into the Sitka marketplace. Our prizes are available to Sitka residents who are sustainably growing, foraging, fishing, or manufacturing food for people in Sitka.”
Last year, we awarded our two $1,500 prizes to Gretchen Stelzenmuller of Enoki Eatery and to Edith Johnson and Lexi Fish-Hackett for a fish broth project. Enoki Eatery sold musubi, a Japanese-Hawaiian dish of rice and Spam rolled up in seaweed, but with Alaska fish or mushrooms replacing the Spam. Edith and Lexi spent the summer testing recipes and developing their fish broth product, which they hope to introduce this year.
In 2021, we awarded our $1,500 prize for established business to Jo Michalski of Muddy Mermaid Mudd Pies, which she sells at her Jo’s Downtown Dawgs hotdog/burger cart and to local restaurants. Our $1,500 prize for start-up business went to Nalani James of Eggstravagent, which are eggs from chickens she raised in town and sold to local customers (sometimes at the Sitka Farmers Market).
In 2020, we awarded our $1,500 prize for established business to Andrew Jylkka of Southeast Dough Co., who is baking sourdough bread, as well as making sauerkraut and kimchi. Our $1,500 prize for start-up business went to Levi Adams of Forage & Farm, where he is harvesting and growing mushrooms. Our prizes were determined before the Covid-19 shutdowns, but both business owners found ways to develop and build their businesses during the pandemic.
In 2019, we gave $1,500 prizes to Brittany Dumag of the Castaway food cart in the start-up business category and to Tamara Kyle of Sitka Sauers in the established business category. We also gave a special $250 award to 12-year-old Abigail Ward who entered her Sitka Seasonings business. Brittany made Cuban pork sandwiches (using pork from North Pole) and other food to sell at various places in Sitka, including the Sitka Farmers Market. Tamara planned to ramp up her fermented foods business, but she ended up having some health issues that prevented her from completing her project and she ended up refunding most of her prize money. Abby made spice blends for seafood and other meats, which she sold at the first two Sitka Farmers Markets of 2019 and at other venues.
In our inaugural contest in 2018, we gave a $1,500 prize to Hope Merritt of Gimbal Botanicals in the established business category. We had no entrants in the start-up business category, so no prize was awarded in 2018. Hope used her prize money to hire two interns to help her harvest seaweed and kelp and to help produce her products.
Participants in this contest are eligible and encouraged to enter other food business innovation contests, such as the Path To Prosperity or Symphony of Seafood contests. All participants retain the proprietary rights to their products and ideas. This contest is open to new and existing food businesses in Sitka, but this year we eliminated the separate categories and everybody is competing for the same awards. Student businesses (such as those fostered by Junior Achievement or similar programs) are welcome.
There is a small $25 entry fee for this contest. All participants (business and individual) must complete and submit our contest entry form by 5 p.m. on Friday, March 17, 2023 (by snail mail so it arrives before the deadline to Sitka Local Foods Network, Food Business Innovation Contest Entries, 408-D Marine Street, Sitka, Alaska, 99835, or by email with the Subject Line of “Food Business Innovation Contest Entries” to firstname.lastname@example.org). Submitting a business plan (up to 20 pages) is recommended, but not required.
Our entry form will have room for you to describe your food business idea in a few paragraphs, but submitting a business plan will give you more room to outline your plans for funding and marketing the idea and will help your overall score. Judging will be based on how your food business idea provides new local food options in Sitka, how novel is your food business idea, how feasible is your food business (can it make a profit and be sustainable), and how professional is your presentation. At some time in late March or early April, the Sitka Local Foods Network may host a pitch presentation, where judges will interview the contest entrants and try samples of the food products. Our judging panel will score your presentation and entry form based on how your idea has a measurable impact on providing local food in Sitka (25%), has the potential for commercialization (25%), provides new employment in Sitka (25%) and fills a need in the Sitka marketplace (25%). We will give bonus points to those businesses that plan to participate in the 2023 Sitka Farmers Market.
In 2022 we made a few changes to the rules. First, since we ended up moving a couple of entries between categories the past two years we decided to eliminate the categories and now everybody is competing for the same two awards. Second, each entry now MUST include a sample, itemized budget showing how the business owner plans to use the prize money. Third, each prize winner will sign a winner’s agreement contract before receiving the prize money that lists a series of benchmarks toward getting the product/service to market that need to be met by a certain date or else all or part of the prize money will need to be refunded to the Sitka Local Foods Network.
The Sitka Local Foods Network reserves the right to reduce or not make an award if the judges determine the applications don’t meet the minimum standards. Purchasing items such as masks and hand sanitizer to prevent the spread of Covid-19 are acceptable uses of prize money. Marijuana edibles are not eligible for the contest.