Drone venture takes honors at small biz competition
Danika Alexander and Cody Kubitz took home first place in the Alaska Business Plan Competition for their concept of an aerial surveillance company called the Kinetic Drone Group.
The coffee shop across the street from your office, custom helicopter tours, Netflix. All of these ideas had to come from somewhere and Alaskan educators and businesses joined forces in an annual effort to encourage new entrepreneurs to get going.
The earliest stages of new businesses — actually getting them off the ground — can be the hardest in the game. The Alaska Business Plan Competition, sponsored by a number by business and academic entities, aims to put some of these startups on the path forward. Just as importantly, it encourages them to get their ideas out in the open.
Business and entrepreneurship professors Richard Wolk of the University of Alaska Southeast and Scott Fredrickson of Alaska Pacific University have been co-organizing this competition for years. Fredrickson said this is the first time many students have put a complete business plan together. Wolk said this makes for a valuable learning experience even to those who don’t win.
“The important thing is to begin to build relationships between entrepreneurs and the financial community,” said Wolk.
The finalists from 14 entries presented their ideas at the University of Alaska Anchorage on April 28 before a mixture of other young entrepreneurs, business professors and potential investors. First place — along with $1,500 — went to UAA students Cody Kubitz and Danika Alexander for the Kinetic Drone Group, an aerial surveillance and video photography company.
It would use drone aircraft to survey land for everything from pipeline work to search and rescue missions to wildlife counting. It could also be used for events like the Iron Dog and Alaska State Fair.
Kubitz and Alexander, both 23, will present the idea at the 49th State Angel Fund in August to try to get half of the $2.6 million startup capital. The rest would come from investors.
Kubitz drew inspiration for the idea from his work as a fight data coordinator for the Federal Aviation Administration.
“Alaska has always been a place to pioneer new technologies. This is especially important in aviation,” he said.
Second place and $1,000 went to Nicholas Pless for his plan for Alaska Organics to locally grow produce using aeroponics, including vertical farming. The business plan also won an extra $500 for the People’s Choice Award.
Entrepreneurs Jacob Taylor and Craig Bisgard took third place ($500) for their plan for a video game establishment called YouPlay. This would be a gaming café but the revenues would come from more than games, such as from competitions and energy drinks. Bisgard said rentals and on-site hourly game rates could get the doors open but concessions and parties are what make the money. He said the market in Alaska stems from a shortage of indoor winter activities.
The two management students said they would put down about $40,000 to start it up but will need investors to contribute an additional $200,000.
There is a higher tier at stake if business plans are built around a $10 million revenue level by the fifth year of operation, but none of the finalists were at that level.
The organizers said that while only student can win cash prizes, anyone can enter and the competition and even partner with students. For example, Jeremiah Stephen is not a current student but made it the finals with his landlord service called Tenant Watch. Stephen describes it as a one-stop shop for landlords to make their businesses more profitable. It offers things like background checks, credit reports, eviction services and other resources.
Tenant Watch has been in business since 1991. Stephen entered the competition to grow and find equity participation and business advising.
Other plans came from students’ own personal interests. For example, Coffee With Care is an idea for a service agency for the disabled and elderly.
This idea is the product of Ric Nelson, a business student who is himself disabled, and Danya McGuire, a social worker. The idea is for an employment and service agency that focuses on care and dignity.
The “coffee” part of the name comes from an on-site coffee shop to add cordiality to the establishment and to add distance to the “disabled” label. McGuire said there is no other place like this in the state.
“Basically, we want to see care for individuals and seniors improve in state of Alaska,” she said.
They have been working on the idea for two years and estimate this venture would cost a minimum of $150,000.
MBA student Danielle Reed based her concept for a new backcountry lodging establishment in Hatcher Pass on her and her husband’s own outdoor sports passion. The lodge, which Reed calls the Yurt Village, would mainly target outdoor enthusiasts to build more of an overnight-stay business in the area.
She said this type of outdoor recreation contributes $2.5 million annually to the Alaska economy.
After the finalists had presented, the third competition organizer, UAA business professor Al Herman addressed the group, saying, “Things do happen out of this event and I personally believe three or four here will get started.”