ANC Innovation Future for Alaska

The Innovation Summit’s final panel discussed the intersection of Purpose and Shared Value with Alaska Native, private and purpose focused organizations in Alaska. Alaska offers a rich area of opportunity, particularly for the ANCs and other purpose-built and ESG-focused organizations.

This discussion follows the one at the 2021 Summit on the potentially significant impact and leadership of ANCs in Alaskan ownership of the assets employed to generate our state economic output and being a leading employer. This year’s Summit added the lens of purpose and shared value that aligns with climate-driven transformations in our economy that will affect nearly every activity in our state. It points the way to the potential economic engine of harnessing the power of traditional ecological and indigenous knowledge in innovation-based opportunities that are then connected to the ANCs for development as sustainable and growing ventures that leverage the ANC assets and market tools. This economic pathway of innovation to commercialization and unique Alaska development of the transformations in food, energy, transportation, housing etc., was the thesis of a proposed NSF Innovation Engine proposal that I was unable to develop fully for submission.

Heading down this path might involve a few areas of development that I’d like to continue to develop, including:

The ANCs provide a model of community-based economic development that could be leveraged to increase innovation-based economic activity in Alaska. By building on the strengths of Alaska’s indigenous communities, including their deep knowledge of the local environment and their cultural values, ANCs have successfully developed businesses aligned with their community’s needs. Could they be growing leaders in the state’s “emerging sectors” rather than Alaska’s current focus on providing a stable operating environment for established sectors while attracting and being a test-bed for early-stage companies that come to Alaska to pilot and prove their solutions before expanding?

One example of how the ANC model could be leveraged to support innovation-based economic activity is by establishing business incubators and accelerators owned and operated by ANCs. These incubators and accelerators could provide support and resources to entrepreneurs and innovators in Alaska, helping them to start and grow businesses in areas such as renewable energy, natural resources, housing, food systems, and healthcare.

Another way the ANC model could be leveraged to increase innovation-based economic activity in Alaska is by establishing research and development partnerships between ANCs and academic institutions. By working together, ANCs and educational institutions, with their unique access to funding for early-stage work, could develop new technologies and innovations tailored to the needs of Alaska’s communities and industries. Alaska Pacific University, where I maintain an affiliation, is already well positioned for some of this work through their deep relationship with ANTHC and as an emerging tribal university.

Finally, the native and tribal history of Alaska crosses the political boundaries we’ve erected today that limit some of the potentials we might develop by working more closely with the Yukon, BC, and Alberta economies and their First Nations. Whitehorse, in particular, has a vibrant innovation ecosystem and has been a past part of the Innovation Summit. Their growing economy is connected to SE Alaska, while Alaska shares many challenges and opportunities explored in other arctic communities in Canada. See my earlier post on a proposed cross-border economic zone.

Overall, the ANC model provides a unique opportunity to build community-based innovation ecosystems in Alaska, and with our arctic neighbors, that leverage the strengths and knowledge of Alaska’s indigenous communities to support economic development and innovation. The work shared during our brief panel discussion demonstrates the potential.



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