Mighty Bear Roots, Game Creek Family Orchards win 2017 Path to Prosperity contest

Rob Bishop of Game Creek Family Orchards in Hoonah poses with some of his fruit trees. Game Creek Family Orchards supplies fruit trees, tree maintenance and support services, and fresh, locally grown apples to and Southeast Alaska. After years of experimenting with local and disease resistant rootstocks, Game Creek Family Orchards has developed a reputation for producing apple trees uniquely crafted to thrive in Southeast Alaska.

Two Southeast Alaska businesses have won a contest for innovative entrepreneurs. Mighty Bear Roots in Wrangell and Hoonah’s Game Creek Family Orchards will each receive prizes of $25,000 for winning top honors in the Path to Prosperity business competition. Winners were presented with their awards on Thursday evening (Feb. 23) at the annual Innovation Summit in Juneau.

Path to Prosperity, or P2P, is a partnership between The Nature Conservancy and Spruce Root Inc.  This sustainable business development competition grows entrepreneurs whose businesses will have a positive economic, social and environmental impact on communities all across Southeast Alaska. In 2017, the contest focused on food security and food businesses. In 2018, the contest will be open to a variety of business types when it opens in April.

Dixie and Chris Booker of Mighty Bear Roots of Wrangell. Mighty Bear Roots is an aeroponic greenhouse start-up that will provide the community of Wrangell with a local source of fresh healthy produce. The clean and green operation will utilize energy efficient full spectrum LED lighting, solar panels, rain catch and ground-to-air heat transfer systems to reduce its ecological footprint while growing delicious, healthy food that doesn’t need to be barged in.

Mighty Bear Roots is an aeroponic greenhouse start-up that will provide the community of Wrangell with a local source of fresh healthy produce.

“The Path to Prosperity has really helped us organize our thinking around our business” says Dixie Booker, the company’s co-founder. “We are excited for the potential to enhance our community’s food security and bring fresh produce to Wrangell. I highly recommend P2P for anyone who wants to start or further a small business.”

Game Creek Family Orchards supplies fruit trees, tree maintenance and support services, and fresh, locally grown apples to and Southeast Alaska.  After years of experimenting with local and disease resistant rootstocks, Game Creek Family Orchards has developed a reputation for producing apple trees uniquely crafted to thrive in Southeast Alaska.

Over the past four years, P2P has received 197 applications from 24 Southeast Alaska communities representing 12 different industries. In addition, 60 entrepreneurs have participated in P2P’s intensive Business Boot Camp workshops. There are now 11 Path to Prosperity winners in Southeast Alaska, all of whom continue to grow and build their businesses in ways that contribute to the community, are environmentally sustainable and are profitable.

“We’re very excited about not only this year’s winners but the entire group of 12 finalists we brought to our Business Boot Camp in September,” says Paul Hackenmueller, Spruce Root program manager and P2P administrator. “Each year the competition has grown more competitive. You can see the impact the program and, more importantly, our contestants are having on their local communities and the region.”

There are more and more signs that P2P, which began as a unique experiment in 2013, has proven itself as a dynamic program that’s making a difference in Southeast Alaska.

“These food businesses don’t only create local jobs; they also decrease the environmental impacts of shipping and transport, and provide food security and healthy food choices in our communities,” says Christine Woll, who directs Southeast Alaska programs for The Nature Conservancy. “These types of businesses are key to building a prosperous triple-bottom-line future for Southeast Alaska.”

Continued Growth
After focusing on food, the 2018 competition will once again be open to sustainable businesses from any industry. “Strengthening local food systems in Southeast Alaska is important to The Nature Conservancy and Spruce Root, but we know there are businesses of all stripes that can benefit from the P2P experience,” Hackenmueller says. “We’ve already seen a lot of interest in the 2018 competition, so I anticipate we’ll see another group of passionate, motivated entrepreneurs for out next Boot Camp in the fall.”

About Spruce Root
Our goal is to build community resiliency. We believe a strong locally controlled economy creates the foundation for a healthy and thriving community. Spruce Root promotes economic development and job creation in Southeast Alaska by providing access to small business loans and business advisory services. Spruce Root is a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization.

Spruce Root was founded by Haa Aaní LLC in 2012 under Haa Aaní Community Development Fund Inc. with the goal of improving access to capital for entrepreneurs in Southeast Alaska.

Learn more at www.spruceroot.org | 907.586.9251 |  grow@spruceroot.org

About The Nature Conservancy
The Nature Conservancy envisions a world where the diversity of life thrives, and people act to conserve nature for its own sake and its ability to fulfill our needs and enrich our lives. As a non-profit conservation organization, the Conservancy is committed to solving big challenges to nature and human well-being. For nearly 30 years, The Nature Conservancy in Alaska has crafted lasting science-based conservation solutions with diverse partners all across the state. Learn more at www.nature.org/alaska.


Sitka Food Co-op one of 12 finalists in 2017 Path to Prosperity business development contest

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:

Business Name Location Applicant
1. Beaver Sisters Kombucha Craig Bettina Brentano
2. PermaFoodScaping Haines Andrew Cardella
3. Sarah J’s Espresso Shoppe Haines Sarah Jaymot
4. Game Creek Family Orchard Hoonah Robert Bishop
5. Happy Camper Juneau Amanda Kraft
6. Panhandle Produce Juneau Eli Wray
7. H20 Grow Ketchikan Kenneth White
8. Klawock Cooperative Association Klawock Quinn Aboudara
9. Wildfish Cannery Klawock Mathew Scaletta
10. Sitka Food Co-Op Sitka Keith Nyitray
11. The Local Isle Wrangell Holly Padilla
12. Mighty Bear Roots Wrangell Dixie Booker

“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.'”