A fishing boat on Lake Aleknagik in Alaska's Bristol Bay.
Alaska's Lake Aleknagik A fishing boat on Lake Aleknagik in Alaska's Bristol Bay. © Clark James Mishler

Stories in Alaska

Nurturing the Entrepreneurial Spirit in Bristol Bay

Path to Prosperity will support ambitious small business dreams sprouting in local communities in Bristol Bay.

A beautiful and remarkable natural abundance surrounds the more than two dozen communities in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region. It’s a place where nature gives opportunity for honored indigenous traditions and ways of life that arise from the land and sea.

Bristol Bay’s waters produce more wild salmon than anywhere else on Earth. A successful commercial fishing industry is key to the local economy. Bristol Bay’s lakes and parks are a once-in-a-lifetime dream destination for bear-watchers and for anglers who dream of catching the ten-pound-plus.

Yet the region faces a challenge: developing healthy local economies that match the wealth of its astonishing natural resources. 

Introducing Path to Prosperity in Bristol Bay

Now there’s a new opportunity for building sustainable local business from the ground up. It’s called Path to Prosperity in Bristol Bay. Together with the Bristol Bay Native Corp., the Bristol Bay Development Fund, and Juneau-based Spruce Root, TNC has helped launch Bristol Bay’s first Path to Prosperity business contest.

“Path to Prosperity is new to Bristol Bay, it’s exciting and offers businesses an opportunity to build a network of support, create access to business knowledge and business planning resources and compete for award money to become business-ready,” says Cindy Middlestadt of the Bristol Bay Development Fund, a BBNC subsidiary serving as a catalyst for economic growth in the Bristol Bay region.

How the P2P Competition Works

Two winning business plans will receive up to $20,000 each, and a third winning business plan will receive up to $10,000. Grant funds will be disbursed to the selected vendor, consultant, trainer or other third party provider assisting the winning applicant with capacity-building activities. The Bristol Bay contest is open to individuals, businesses and tribes.

Business ideas are judged primarily on the basis of their feasibility and their potential for positive social impact. Feasibility focuses on business fundamentals, including a market and competition analysis, marketing strategies, implementation feasibility, strength of financial projections and quality of the management team. Measures of social impact focus on how the business contributes to conservation and sustainable use of local natural resources, the extent to which the business revenue stays within the local economy and how the business contributes to the development of local business leadership and community self-determination.

Small Businesses Build the Local Economy

Successful small businesses add plenty to the life of a community. In remote communities, the launch of an entrepreneurial venture can offer an outsized economic boost by offering jobs, become a source of local pride and sustaining a prosperous future for people committed to a place. Small business can have a positive impact on people in a community and the local environment, plus return a profit for the business owner.

Bristol Bay’s Path to Prosperity wants to help make entrepreneurial dreams come true. As a movement, it may start small, but successful entrepreneurs have a way of inspiring more small business—it’s how transformation begins.

“Small businesses can be a force for good in rural communities,” says Steve Cohn, TNC’s Alaska state director. “Nurturing the birth of triple-bottom line businesses in Bristol Bay helps the local economy, a sense of community and the healthy lands and waters that connect us to a place.”

Kelp from the sea is a key ingredient in the product offerings of Barnacle Foods, a Path to Prosperity contest winner.
Path to Prosperity Kelp from the sea is a key ingredient in the product offerings of Barnacle Foods, a Path to Prosperity contest winner in Southeast Alaska. © Barnacle Foods

Path to Prosperity’s Proven Record

Path to Prosperity is a proven economic development program. It’s already making a difference in Southeast Alaska, where TNC and Juneau-based non-profit Spruce Root launched the contest in 2012. The annual business development competition is designed to encourage the growth of businesses with a positive economic, environmental and community impact on Southeast Alaska.

The business contest has awarded $40,000 prizes in business startup services to 13 businesses—which now account for 40 jobs in the panhandle of Southeast Alaska. Another 76 have attended P2P’s “boot camp” for entrepreneurs. Winning ventures in Southeast Alaska communities range from restaurants, to small farms, to sawmills and artisanal food processors. In 2015, Path to Prosperity was presented the Silver Award for Excellence in Economic Development by the International Economic Development Council. 

Stay tuned to meet the two inaugural winners of the Path to Prosperity in Bristol Bay business contest in February.