Alaska Year of Innovation

An annual cycle of Alaska startup company formation has grow in part by design and coincidence. The thought that there should be some coordination of events and connection from one event to another seems obvious at times and a struggle at other times as each organizer’s event becomes its own challenge.  However over time its become clear that the cycle has helped many of our startups advance their ideas, build their teams and raise community and investor support in an iterative process that has typically taken two years for someone to move through all of the events.  Before diving in to the weeds, if you are looking for a regular source of events and news, subscribed to the Alaska Startup Digest or visit the site for the current Google calendar of events.

The frame work for a annual cycle of events has a shared background from work from Juliet Shepherd at the Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation and work at APU to develop a framework connecting lean new venture creation to traditional business development tools. In 2013 the fall Arctic Innovation Competition bookended the year with the spring Alaska Business Plan Competition, offering an ideation event to start year academic year and a plan and financing event to complete the academic year. As new lean events such as the Techstars Startup Weekends, a new Global Accelerator Network inspired Launch Alaska Accelerator program and startup community activities at The Boardroom grew, the idea that these events might be connected grew in to the original Year of Innovation model that offered a path following the Innovation to Launch Model:

1. Early Fall – Ideation – Arctic Innovation Competition, Hackathon

2. Late Fall – Modeling – Startup Weekend, fall APU lean entrepreneurship class.

3. Winter – Strategy – Entrepreneurship Edge: boot camp, speed coaching, speakers; and the Juneau Innovation Summit.

4. Spring – Planning – Alaska Business Plan competition, APU business plan class, UAA entrepreneurship classes.

6. Summer – Finance – Launch Alaska Cohort 1 and AEDC’s Alaska Entreprneeurship Week investor workshops with ARI/ACA and APU.

7. Summer – Launch – AEDC’s Alaska Entrepreneurship events celebrating and promoting early startup companies and economic impacts.

Over time this original outline has shifted as individual organizations have adjusted their schedules. Launch Alaska shifted to later stage customer development projects, the Entrepreneurship Edge program lost university support, and AEDC’s summer Entrepreneurship week became the Alaska Startup Week event that has now moved to November to match the Global Entrepreneurship week.

Today the framework for the annual cycle of connected events remains at www.innovatealaska.net maintained by FEDC with some of the original strategies behind an integrated approach to economic development and preparing Alaska’s for innovative new ventures.

Key anchor events remain to offer a frame work for helping entrepreneurs connect to a sequential set of programs to help them develop their idea in to a new venture and find support and financing for each stage including:

1. Early Fall – Ideation and early venture formation – Arctic Innovation Competition, UA Icorp customer discovery training/funding, Ocean Tuesday, Health TIE, Hackathons, Center ICE Seed Fund prototype funding, Accelerate Alaska Conference. (I am watching for OTIS to show up again!)

2. Late Fall – Business Modeling and team development with Startup Weekends and Alaska Startup Week. The Alaska Angel Conference is also starting their outreach in October to new entrepreneurs and investors with introductory training in investability.

4. Winter – Strategy with the Innovation Summit and perhaps the second Business Model Competition that allows the fall new entrepreneur to demonstrate what they’ve learned from their ideation and business model experiments and develop more support for their ventures.

6. Spring – Planning and Finance – Alaska Business Plan competition and the Alaska Angel conference. We also expect to see Launch Alaska selecting another cohort of companies that will receive investment. Also supporting financing is the Alaska Investor Network that meets from September to May offering companies a change to meet angel investors and syndicate early stage financing.

7. ??? Launch – Left out of the current line up of events seems to be support for the companies that are launching with any regular events. The Alaska SBDC and Alaska PTAC continue to offer their ongoing support and regular advisor services and training. The Path to Prosperity program addresses this gap with a year long program that provides a full connected model like this Innovation to Launch process including later staging continued support. Other communities have events for founders to meet up, failure summits and hiring fairs. Some communities have more developed mentoring programs to provide formal ongoing support. Alaska seems to be letting the companies startup and then stands on the sidelines watching and wondering if the company will make it. The “Fargo” model I learned from Katherine Jernstrom after she attended a Startup Champions meeting is something we should consider. In this ?program? the community chooses to actively support some of the startups and figuratively pulls them to success.

Alaska’s Year of Innovation in 2019 was memorized in a legislative resolution that resulted in words but little special attention, funding or action. It remains up to us in the startup ecosystem to create a connected approach to the events we schedule and choose to plan and connect our events to other events in a way that adds value to the experience and support an entrepreneurs needs. It’s not clear that many support this assumption that we should plan and coordinate our events, rather it seems more typical that events are scheduled or cancelled out of necessity and convenience of the organizers. Indeed as a startup community grows it seems natural that chaos will take over and any attempt to organize a startup ecosystem will give way to a calliope of programs and defy anyone ever knowing what is happening; but at that point in well developed startup communities where their may be 10 meetups each day to choose from and a startup related conference nearly every week, there is enough going on at all times that there is something for everyone.

Alaska has not grown to that point yet where there is too much to choose from and I believe that we are still better for having some pathway to help someone from idea, to model, to strategy and planning, then financing and support for their launch. This is especially important as long as the university and its academic cycle, student and faculty are an essential part of the ecosystem. Its not just an efficient use of our limited organizer energy, its been an effective model for the entrepreneurs. As we move in to this fall’s annual cycle of events we should reflect and appreciate the power of the model we have developed in the state that has launched a number of companies with promising futures, perhaps an exist someday, and created an unusual number of national and internally recognized startups for our small size.

Ky