Sitka Local Foods Network hosts fourth annual Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest

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 fourth 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 5.

This contest will provide two $1,500 kicker prizes — one for established food businesses and one for start-up businesses (no older than two years) — 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 a 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.”

Last year, 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. 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 5, 2021 (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 sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.com). 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%).

In 2020 we made some changes to the rules, and those changes will continue in 2021. First, each entry now MUST include a sample, itemized budget showing how the business owner plans to use the prize money. Second, 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. Purchasing items such as masks and hand sanitizer to prevent the spread of Covid-19 are acceptable uses of prize money.

If we find additional sponsors, we may add additional prizes and categories (such as fish or farm). Depending on the number of entries and interest of the participants, we may host a reception where contestants can demonstrate their products to Sitka residents. If the reception happens, there will be a chance for people to vote on their favorite products with the winner receiving the People’s Choice Award (this will be separate than the two main prizes selected by our judging panel). We are hoping to find a sponsor for the People’s Choice Award. Note, if our panel of judges determine there isn’t a worthy entrant in one or both categories, then the Sitka Local Foods Network reserves the right not to award a prize. Marijuana edibles are not eligible for the contest.

• Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest Entry Form 2021