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 www.spruceroot.org or email grow@spruceroot.org.

Two Sitka businesses make the finals in 2019 Path to Prosperity sustainable business development competition

Volunteers and staff of the Sitka Food Co-Op during one of the twice-monthly food deliveries held at Harrigan Centennial Hall.

Two Sitka businesses — the Sitka Food Co-Op and M/V Adak Short- and Long-Term Rentals — have been chosen as finalists in the 2019 Path to Prosperity sustainable business development competition, joining 11 others from Southeast Alaska in the second round of the contest. Started by Sealaska and The Nature Conservancy in 2013 and now run by Spruce Root, Path to Prosperity (P2P) is an award-winning competition for small businesses and start-ups located in the region.

Customers wait to pay their bills during a recent Sitka Food Co-Op food delivery.

The Sitka Food Cooperative, or Sitka Food Co-Op, is “a buying club on steroids,” according to general manager Keith Nyitray. The group started in 2011 as a way for local residents to order healthy food for less than what they’d pay in Sitka grocery stores. It now works with local food producers, giving them a venue to sell their products during the twice-monthly delivery days.

“Being selected as a finalist in the P2P competition is indeed an honor and we look forward to meeting and possibly working with all the other finalists and, more importantly, we look forward to learning how to grow our business and increase our positive social and environmental impacts here in Sitka and SE Alaska,” Nyitray wrote in an email. “For the past eight years the Co-op has been growing (pardon the pun) organically and we’re now on the verge of a major expansion. It’s definitely a challenging time and that’s where the professional and technical support we’ll get through the P2P competition (and from Spruce Root) will come in handy and help us ‘Bring Good Food & Community Together’ to a much greater degree.”

The M/V Adak is a WWII-era tugboat owned by Brendan and Rachel Jones that serves as a bed and breakfast.

Owned by Brendan and Rachel Jones, the M/V Adak is a WWII-era tugboat that serves as a bed and breakfast in Sitka. Even though the business may not, at first glance, have much to do with local food, the Jones family has added a local food component.

“The Joneses join up with third-generation Sitka troller Karl Jordan to provide Alaska’s first sustainable pescatourism experience,” Brendan Jones wrote in an email. “This joint venture will provide guests the opportunity to experience a day in the life of a commercial fishermen, trolling Sitka Sound and Cape Edgecumbe, followed by a night on a vintage World War II tugboat, as Beak chef Renee Trafton instructs guests on how to prepare king salmon. Alaska’s Native heritage, as well as environmentally sound fishing and living practices will be highlighted as visitors gain insight into life on a remote Alaska island.”

In Round 2 of the competition, finalists will participate in Path to Prosperity’s innovative Business Boot Camp where they will get access to resources, work with mentors, and receive one-on-one consulting to develop their business models and plans. Nine of the 13 finalists deal with food first, and a couple of others also have food as a secondary focus to the business. Sitka is the only community to have more than one business make the finals this year. The following businesses were selected as this year’s finalists:

  • Business Name, Applicant, Location
  • Alaska Costal Seaweed, Theresa Abbas, Juneau
  • Around the Bay Lodging, Susan Ritchie, Wrangell
  • Foundroot, Leah Wagner, 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 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

“Each year, Path to Prosperity receives exciting new business ideas from startups throughout our region, with this year being more competitive than ever,” says program administrator Ashley Snookes. A total of 43 entrepreneurs from 12 communities applied to Path to Prosperity in 2019. “An essential component to economic growth in our region is the growth of small businesses, and we are thrilled to help these businesses thrive.”

A guest of the M/V Adak holds up a couple of king salmon

According to UAA’s Center for Economic Development’s State of Entrepreneurship report, startups contribute 4,000 to 6,000 new jobs to Alaska’s economy each year, with Southeast Alaska contributing the highest percentage of businesses per population in the state. From oyster farming and kelp harvesting in our pristine ocean waters, to truly Alaskan experiences for visitors, to manufacturing the best dry bags one could ask for, the 2019 Path to Prosperity finalists are defining the local products and services of the last frontier, creating jobs, and driving local, sustainable, economic growth.

Over the past seven years, Path to Prosperity has received more than 250 applications from Southeast Alaskan small business owners and entrepreneurs across 22 communities. The program has trained 76 finalists at Business Boot Camp and awarded 13 winners $460,000 to build their local 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.

Path to Prosperity is a Spruce Root program. Spruce Root provides local entrepreneurs with access to business development and financial resources in the form of loan capital, business coaching, workshop, and competitions. Together, these programs support both new and existing businesses in Southeast Alaska and empower business owners through increased self-sufficiency.

To learn more about Path to Prosperity or Spruce Root’s other services, visit their website at www.spruceroot.org or email grow@spruceroot.org. Also, to learn about the Path to Prosperity Master Class (deadline to register is July 31, cost is $450), click this link, https://www.spruceroot.org/2019masterclass.