A regional business plan development competition has announced 12 semi-finalists for the third year of the program and two of the businesses selected are based in Petersburg. Two finalists will be chosen from that group and will receive funding to help get those businesses launched.
The Path to Prosperity competition was started in 2013 by the Haa Aani, the economic development arm of Sealaska, along with the Nature Conservancy. It’s open to residents of Southeast Alaska, along with businesses and tribal entities that plan to operate in the state.

Applicants can propose an idea for a new business or expansion of an existing business. Paul Hackenmueller is economic development coordinator with Haa Aani. “It’s been getting more and more competitive each year I think as the program has gained some momentum across the region and we’re a known entity, people are thinking about it year round and really trying to incorporate the sustainability components into their business plans and their proposals,” Hackenmueller said. “So overall the applicants are getting better each year and this was definitely a very competitive group.”

Prior year’s winners have included a guitar making business in Wrangell, a distillery and ski maker in Haines, and a gelato company in Juneau.

The competition had 28 applicants this year. The 12 semi-finalists are from nine Southeast communities with proposals ranging from several farms to a coffee company, a bed and breakfast and a biodiesel company. Those semi-finalists will attend a weekend boot camp in September to meet with business mentors and start developing a business plan. Hackenmueller thinks this year’s group of semi-finalists is an exciting bunch. “You know we’ve been on the phone with them communicating with them pretty heavily over the last couple of days, there’s a lot of enthusiasm and I think we’re gonna see some really terrific projects.”

Two of this year’s semi-finalists are from Petersburg. One of those was submitted by KFSK development director Mindy Anderson for her business called “The Salty Pantry.” She describes it as a small deli selling fresh market products. “You could walk into the Salty Pantry and see a long deli case,” Anderson said. “And there would be fresh salads made right there on the premises. And you could buy the salads by the pound. Or you could buy them maybe a certain container size. You could eat it there or take it home and have it for dinner.”

Anderson would have to leave her job at KFSK if she’s successful in the competition and ends up pursuing that business idea. She wants to make foods that no one else in Petersburg already offers, using produce from the community garden and local vendors. “You know one of things I think that the judges really liked that I had in my application was the use of a commercial kitchen for non-profits to come in and maybe take over the market deli one night, be able to host a fund raiser there, use my commercial kitchen, I’d love to be able to offer that once a month. So that was very helpful I think in the application process. And same with hosting cooking classes there.”

Another semi-finalist is the Petersburg Indian Association. Mark Banda is tribal resource director for the local tribal government. “PIA has had a SeaLife Composting startup business for quite a while now,” Banda explained. “Basically what we are doing is we are producing 100 percent Southeast Alaska organic compost right here in Petersburg. It’s made of fish byproduct, wood waste. So we’re actually making a product, a viable good product and also with an environmentally friendly side.”

PIA’s composting program has been happening at the Petersburg landfill. Banda said the Path 2 Prosperity competition will help the tribe write a business plan to get the existing product to customers. “Path 2 Prosperity is a beautiful opportunity for small businesses in rural areas to be able to make a sustainable, profitable product. I am just really happy to have submitted and been a part of this and to actually have been chosen to go onto round 2, I’m humbled.”

All the semi-finalists will complete a business plan by the first of December. Only two finalists will be chosen from the group. And they’ll receive up to 40-thousand dollars in seed money for consulting and technical services to develop their business.