Startup Week 2017: Innovation is Alaska’s New Pipeline

Monday, July 31, 2017

By: Ky Holland and Juliet Shepherd
Post date: Fri, 07/28/2017 - 1:17pm

A generation ago, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System was completed after a decade of development to move the non-renewable natural resource to market, creating initial construction jobs, longer term legacy jobs, and new support industries.

Like the innovators who made TAPS a reality, today’s generation is building a new pipeline that adds capacity to our state’s ability to employ Alaskans, export products, and generate revenue. This latest conduit connects ideas, opportunities, entrepreneurs and investors.

Like the TAPS pipeline, years of preparation have been required to build a system that can create new jobs and open up our economy to bring innovations to market, and today we can start to measure the impact of this pipeline.

The innovation pipeline is new enterprise development through an iterative process made possible through grassroots initiatives, business support programs, educational classes and training, and an annual calendar of coordinated events stretched over multiple years.

The Year of Innovation calendar, linking established business development events and lean entrepreneurship tools, helps to speed up the creation of successful innovative business ventures, provide access to over $100K in startup capital, and makes it possible to measure the growth of the ecosystem.

While the Year of Innovation has a logical start with ideation events in the fall, someone with a new venture idea can start at any time in the year. Beginning in the fall with coding Hackathons, Startup Weekends, and the statewide UAF Arctic Innovation Competition (AIC); teams are built and business models are generated using lean entrepreneurship tools.

The winter and spring focuses on model validation and business strategy with the Innovation Summit and Alaska Business Plan Competition. The summer highlights financing and business startups with the Launch Alaska accelerator program, Alaska Business Week and Alaska Startup Week. Additional programs including 1 Million Cups, and the Alaska Startup Digest are available weekly throughout the year; in addition to scheduled programming, coaching, training and academic classes.

An outline of the annual Year of Innovation events, supporting organizations, and a framework for building a three-part strategy addressing fundamental priorities including: building a healthy startup ecosystem, focusing on economic base growth, and developing a new generation of innovative Alaskans; can be found at

Why is this model and pipeline strategy important? Because a successful venture is never the product of one good idea, pitched one time, and launched with assurance of success. Companies like VH Hydroponics, The Wylie Post, Pandera Shoes, 60 Hertz, Attently, iA3, and many more; are the result of numerous pitches, programs, and competitions where ideas are refined, and refined again, and team members and investors are added to support business growth.

Each event further improves the business model, or leads to a valuable pivot and adjustment in direction.

We know the annual events have an impact. In 2016, the Year of Innovation events reported results that included 309 unique business ideas pitched, 31 developed business ideas presented between the two accelerators in the state, 14 startup businesses launched, and more than $550K in capital investment made in Alaska startup businesses.

These numbers do not represent a complete picture of all new business activity across the state or jobs created yet, but it is the first attempt to measure early stage business generation. This effort offers a strategy that both shapes and supports many of the new venture and business development elements of the state’s draft comprehensive economic development strategies (CEDS) plan.

Alaska Startup Week is effectively the microcosm of the Year of Innovation series of events moving ideas, entrepreneurs, and investors forward to iteratively develop new ventures.

This year, over 55 events were hosted around the state, and included: investor workshops, entrepreneurship training, technology and manufacturing innovation workshops, startup open houses, rapid innovation training, economic development strategizing - including exploring university and industry partnerships, a conference to “rethink” the definition of a startup in Alaska, and new industry meetups. “It was unbelieveable!”, said Joel Cladouhos, Director of the Alaska Ocean Cluster, and co-organizer of the Ocean Tuesday event investigating emerging ocean and mariculture markets, “Eight Alaskan communities collaborating with Norway, UK and Maine!”

As the Alaska Startup Week concludes, we are grateful to the many organizations, entrepreneurs and volunteers that supported the programs this past week, and over the past year. We encourage Alaskans who want to create a vibrant post-oil and gas economy for a new generation to help us fill the innovation pipeline, measure and share the results.

Alaskans who want to build our future economy are enouraged to sign up for the Startup Digest to stay informed of events and local news, then participate in the Year of Innovation, beginning next with Interior Hackathon, September 9-11 and the statewide 2017 AIC competition, launching the fall Year of Innovation events. Visit for more information.

Alaska Startup Week brings entrepreneurs, local leaders, and friends together during 10 days of events and celebration to build momentum and opportunity around our state’s unique entrepreneurial identity. Startup Week is a focal point of the Innovate Alaska (2.0) effort to diversify Alaska’s economic base. For more information and a full list of 2017 events, visit

Ky Holland is concluding four years of entrepreneurship education at the Alaska Pacific University. Ky has 30 years of industrial product business management experience; is a partner in Alyeska Venture Management, manager of Alaska’s first seed fund, the Alaska Accelerator Fund and an angel investor; and is CEO of IA3 Inc., an industrial Internet of Things (IoT) technology startup.

Juliet Shepherd is the Technology Led Development Project Manager at Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation; a founding member of the entrepreneur think tank promoting socially responsible business development in Alaska which launched Fairbikes bike share at the first Startup Weekend Fairbanks in 2013; and an active proponent and advocate for the startup community through the Innovate Alaska (2.0) effort and the Year of Innovation.

Illustration: The Year of Innovation calendar created a framework to align the Alaska Pacific University academic model of new venture creation called “Innovation to Launch” so that classes and student activities are coordinated with startup community events.


More from the Alaska Journal of Commerce Startup Week 2017 series:

Startup Week 2017: Public Policy Supports Entrepreneurism and Innovation

Startup Week 2017: Youth Entrepreneurship in Alaska

Startup Week 2017: Driving Ourselves To Embrace Technology Transformation

Startup Week 2017: Why Selectivity and Diversity Matter at Permanent Fund Corp.

Startup Week 2017: Startup Investing and Alaska's Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

Startup Week 2017: Growing Our Economy through Entrepreneurship

Startup Week 2017: Lots of Progress, More to Come From Women Entrepreneurs

Startup Week 2017: Alaska Ocean Cluster Initiative

Startup Week 2017: Building Alaska’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

07/29/2017 - 10:43am