By Gretchen Fauske, CED Associate Director and
Penny Gage, Alaska Division of Economic Development Business Development Officer
This content originally appeared in the Alaska Journal of Commerce
Julia Casey moved to Anchorage in 2017 as an Americorps VISTA. Although she was placed in a position supporting entrepreneurs at the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development, it wasn’t until Alaska Startup Week a few months after her arrival that she really started connecting with her new community.
“I met so many people interested in startups and innovation, and felt like there was a welcoming space for me to step up and get involved,” she says. “Before Startup Week I had no idea there were so many resources available for Alaska entrepreneurs.”
It was a turning point for Julia in how she thought about Anchorage as a community, and the outlook for entrepreneurship in our state. After her VISTA placement concluded, Julia chose to stay in Alaska and she continues supporting entrepreneurs across the state. “I’m especially impressed by how generous entrepreneurs are with their time in terms of collaborating, mentoring, and helping build our entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
While Julia was new to Alaska, her confusion about the resources available and the entrepreneur community that exists is common. It’s easy to overlook or just not know about our entrepreneurial ecosystem. Maybe it’s because we’re spread out across great distances, or maybe it’s because the louder narrative about the economy lately has been a pessimistic one. And yet, there exists a vibrant community of people committed to making a difference for our state, whether through launching a company or providing resources to entrepreneurs and potential entrepreneurs. Participating in Startup Week is a great way to make the connections needed as an entrepreneur or someone who supports them.
Startups are important to our state. Over the last decade, startups in Alaska consistently added 4,000 to 6,000 jobs to the economy each year, and firms that were less than five-years-old accounted for 89 percent of Alaska’s net employment growth in the private sector. Alaska Startup Week offers opportunities for entrepreneurs (or wanna-preneurs!) to launch and grow their ventures in Alaska, and also celebrates entrepreneurial success and builds momentum. The events spanning the week help connect entrepreneurs to resources available statewide, whether they’re in need of mentors, investors, advising, or simply someone to talk to who shares the same challenges they do.
This year, Alaska Startup Week has grown from three communities to nine, with over 70 events in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Sitka, Kenai, Soldotna, Palmer, Bethel, Homer, and Seward. More entrepreneurs have stepped into leadership roles on local organizing committees, ensuring that events will mirror and elevate their needs and know-how.
For example, in Soldotna, knowing where and how to find funding is an ongoing challenge, so organizers are hosting a panel about options for raising capital. In Palmer, simply getting to know other entrepreneurs is a priority, so a meet-up is planned. Other events include movie screenings, happy hours, breakfast meetups, pitch coaching sessions, and even yoga and cycle classes for stress relief!
Event highlights include:
Fairbanks: New Products Launch @ Venue
Juneau: Entrepreneur Meet-Up
Kenai/Soldotna: Panel: Options for Raising Capital
Palmer: Entrepreneur Meet-Up
You can find a full list of events online:
Statewide Schedule of Events: http://alaska.startupweek.co/
Alaska Startup Week is on Facebook: http://facebook.com/akstartups
Additionally, Alaska Startup Week is bookended by two Startup Weekends this year - one in Anchorage(November 9-11) and one in Juneau (November 16-18). Startup Weekends last 54 hours, during which participants pitch ideas for new startup companies, form teams around those ideas, and work to develop a prototype, demo, or presentation by Sunday evening. Some of the most exciting startups in Alaska - Attently, 60 Hertz, and Pandere Shoes - were formed at Startup Weekends, and this year registration for Startup Weekends looks like it will be the highest to date — we can’t wait to see what new companies emerge!
This year’s Startup Week also coincides with Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW). Nearly 40,000 events are planned across 170 countries as part of GEW, giving Alaskans the opportunity to connect startup scenes across the globe. As the world becomes flatter and our economy more global, connecting with international markets and expertise will becoming increasingly necessary.
Ky Holland with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Office of Intellectual Property and Commercialization, spent Spring 2018 as an entrepreneur in residence in Serbia, and says, “Working in Serbia gave me the opportunity to share what we are doing in Alaska with another emerging economy and to see that our work in Alaska, including our emerging ‘Blue’ innovation ecosystem, is globally relevant and state of the art.”
He continues: “What I did not expect from my visit was to learn as much about Alaska, including how important our current private investor community is to the quality and success of our startup community.”
Over the past few months, as we worked with the 21 volunteer entrepreneurs and community leaders on the Alaska Startup Week statewide organizing committee, we were reminded of our state’s largest asset: its people. Alaska Startup Week is a grassroots effort with many volunteers giving freely of their time, energy, and ideas to ensure a meaningful experience for participants and to build the future we want for our state. Whether you’re new to Alaska like Julia was, or you’re a longtime resident and entrepreneur/investor like Ky, we hope you make it out to to celebrate and support startups in Alaska!
Statewide funding support for Alaska Startup Week came from the State of Alaska Division of Economic Development, Alaska Small Business Development Center (SBDC), Alaska SCORE, University of Alaska Center for Economic Development, and the Alaska Industrial Development & Export Authority (AIDEA).