An innovative business competition led by a Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC) subsidiary has injected $100,000 in grants to Bristol Bay businesses who are supporting and growing the region’s economy.
The Path to Prosperity competition—or P2P, as it’s called—is operated by the Bristol Bay Development Fund (BBDF), and rewards local innovators with a chance to combine real-world experience and education with their entrepreneurial spirit. The program’s tangible impacts on Bristol Bay’s economy and the lives of BBNC shareholders are exactly the type of program to celebrate as the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) turns 50.
P2P just wrapped up its second round of the competition. The most recent awardees are Sugar and Spice Express, a multi-location convenience store; Little Alaskan Fish Co., a boutique fish processor; and Nick’s Legacy, a traditional net repair business. This year’s awardees all share the distinction of being BBNC shareholder-owned businesses.
The program isn’t just about cash grants or maximizing profits. Though participants do create plans to achieve financial success, they must also take Bristol Bay’s environment and communities into account by measuring their business’ ecological and social benefits.
“The three winners are already meeting early milestones and embracing ecological stewardship in new ways,” said BBDF Manager Cindy Mittlestadt. “One is already considering a more efficient packaging solution for their product that will improve packing space, reduce shipping costs, and be better for the environment by including compostable and recyclable features.”
In addition to grant assistance, the competition winners also receive coaching sessions with BBDF staff for at least one year following the award. This approach, known as “nurture capital,” combines financial resources with mentoring, such as help with making meaningful connections and business planning. This type of support serves as a catalyst for startups and existing companies to grow and expand.
P2P’s hands-on training goes hand-in-hand with BBNC’s value of sharing knowledge and supporting education for its shareholders and descendants. ANCSA ushered in a new approach to federal Indian policy by creating a dozen for-profit regional Alaska Native corporations (including BBNC) and more than 200 village corporations. ANCSA mandated that Alaska Native corporations provide for the economic, social, educational, and cultural well-being of their shareholders and descendants.
Bristol Bay Development Fund is a natural fit with this mission, combining several purposes of Alaska Native corporations like BBNC into one multifaceted organization. Established in 2014, BBDF is an investment fund with the goal of infusing $5 million into the Bristol Bay economy over an 11-year period by investing in businesses that directly benefit BBNC’s shareholder community. In addition to its monetary investment goal, BBDF also aims to prepare Bristol Bay entrepreneurs and businesses for long-term success with a three-word mindset: community, connection, and capital.
The P2P competition is just one of the many ways that BBDF puts this mindset into action. The competition is open to individuals, innovators, startups, existing for-profit businesses, and tribal enterprises that already have, or intend to develop, a significant operating presence in Bristol Bay. Applicants submit a business concept that’s already in process or just an idea—both visions are acceptable in the P2P competition.
Over the competition’s two cycles, P2P received 63 applications, representing 15 of the region’s communities. Twenty-two finalists have made it to the program’s second round, where they participate in a multi-day business development boot camp that prepares them to build and submit a business plan. During the boot camp, the finalists explore numerous subjects, such as developing a financial model, human resources, and marketing. This year’s boot camp was virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Six awardees (three during each cycle) emerged from the process based on their business plan’s feasibility and contributions to community development.
P2P applicants and participants represent a diverse swath of business and entrepreneurial interests. This year’s finalists included mobile food services, aviation instruction, a coffee outlet, and health and fitness services.
Each finalist also submitted a one-minute pitch video where they shared their business story and purpose. The three awardees’ videos show the passion and local connection that the entrepreneurs have for their chosen industries.
“Bristol Bay is my home. I was raised on fish, [and] I know quality salmon. Together, we’ve built this company from the ground up to do more with our catch,” explains Little Alaskan Fish Co. co-owner Tiffany Bennett in her video.
Sugar and Spice Express owner June Cagungun says in her video that her business started in Chignik Lake with one shelf in her mother’s living room. “And we grew to own this building,” she says, gesturing to her video background. “Living in rural Alaska, it is not easy to get products. It can take up to three weeks by boat or plane. Our stores meet the demand by having product available most days of the week.”
Joshua Gumlickpuk, son of Nick’s Legacy owners Wassillie and Sally Gumlickpuk, notes in their video that 640,000 tons of fishing waste is left in the world’s oceans each year. “To eliminate some of this waste, we are working with fishermen to reuse and recycle fishing gear. We are seeking a larger work area to help out more fishermen…with Path to Prosperity, your support and guidance, we believe we can make this a reality,” Gumlickpuk says.
The Path to Prosperity competition has helped each one of these businesses develop tools and connections for success, and spurred others to strive toward their own goals. The competition, part of BBDF’s economic vitality mission, underscores that Alaska Native corporations continue to add value to shareholders and their regions 50 years after the passage of ANCSA.
Watch the Path to Prosperity video online at https://youtu.be/EQzDjFGXXEo.