Posted Tuesday, May 01, 2018 - 10:46 am
After long spells on Alaska trails, finding a shirt that didn’t stink of body odor following a few days’ wear came to be high on Jennifer Loofbourrow’s priority list.
The entrepreneur founded Alpine Fit LLC, and put together the financing for her start-up to begin manufacturing outdoor clothing this July. The high tech wicking fabric contains silver, a natural combatant of odor-causing bacteria.
Alpine Fit makes apparel for avid outdoor fitness lovers and wilderness adventurers, offering size options with fits for body types for both women and men.
Loofbourrow beat out five other finalists to win the 2018 Alaska Business Plan Competition held April 25 at the 49th State Brewing Co. She won $2,000 in cash and was welcomed into a network of entrepreneurial support.
She also took another $2,000 prize for the student award, related to Loofbourrow’s enrollment in the University of Alaska Fairbanks master’s of business administration program.
The annual business plan contest brought out 33 entrants this year from around the state, said organizer Gretchen Fauske, the associate director of the Center for Economic Development at the University of Alaska Business Enterprise Institute.
The finalists were Loofbourrow, and start-ups FutrSelf, Northern Hydro Farm, Tandem Labs, Litter Defender and Wheelhouse. Since 1999, the competition has been a joint project of the University of Alaska Business Enterprise Institute, Alaska Pacific University and the University of Alaska Fairbanks to encourage new business startups to add their ideas to diversify Alaska’s economy.
Loofbourrow caught the judges’ attention on a couple of fronts, said Christi Bell, associate vice provost and executive director of the UAA Business Enterprise Institute.
Loofbourrow’s passion for starting a manufacturing company in Alaska to make her own label of sportswear goes back a few years. She and her husband, Hale, choose to spend their vacation time on outdoor trips and she’s a daily runner or trail hiker on days that allow around a busy schedule as the mother of four- and six-year-olds. She said she wouldn’t pack clothing for an extended trip if it didn’t have some anti-odor properties.
One shirt made of the special material is now 10 years old and still goes in the backpack for her trips.
“I won’t pack clothing of certain fabrics if it won’t smell great after a couple of days of wearing it,” she said.
“I had been thinking about this for several years and I started focusing on it during 2017, working on the business alongside my MBA courses.”
For her own operation, Loofbourrow found a Pennsylvania materials supplier that creates the fibers. She will work with a fabric mill in California that then makes the fabric from the fibers to her specifications.
‘They will send me the sample yardage to mock out prototypes and test it out,” she said.
The actual manufacturing of the sportswear will be done in Alaska.
“Spring, summer, fall products: this is the fiber that works and it should definitely be the foundation of any packing list,” Loofbourrow said.
But the outdoor wear isn’t “out there yet” where it would be more accessible to Alaskans.
“What’s available in the marketplace? A couple of items, not hiking or camping-specific,” she said.
“What I can tell you is that silver is known and studied as an inherently antimicrobial substance. It does not support the growth of bacteria,” Loofbourrow said. “A normal base layer that doesn’t have silver fiber is a breeding ground for bacteria for body odor.”
Silver is used in the medical industry for that reason, she said. Antimicrobial means the ability to resist not just bacteria, but also molds, fungi and other germ-producing organisms. It’s a safe material when dealing with infections, which is why the medical industry puts it to use.
Alpine Fitness is planned as a self-funded start-up. Loofbourrow is investing her own funds from the 2014 sale of a business she owned, Change Galway, a women’s lingerie store in Gallway, Ireland.
While her husband, Hale, was completing medical school at the National University of Ireland, she ran the shop. As a Canadian citizen from Ontario, she first had to write a business plan to the Irish government for permission to open the store in Galway.
“I had to write a business plan and write to the Irish government for permission to go there. It was a good foundation to write a good plan,” Loofbourrow said. “Ireland was in a recession; I needed to create my own job and continue my own job and contribute to the Irish economy during the time my husband was a student there. That was my first run through starting a business from scratch and growing it to something sustainable.”
Hale Loofbourrow, a Juneau native, is now a physician at Primary Care Associates. His wife is essentially doing the same thing she did in Ireland: starting a business to employ herself and others, “and contribute to the local economy,” she said.
To launch in Alaska, she would begin with a staff of two in addition to herself. Her plan is to test the market and “make sure we grow in response to the market demand” rather spreading out too thin by taking on too much expense upfront.
Loofbourrow is on track to complete her MBA in 2019.
The other finalists of the business plan competition were:
Second place, Wheelhouse: Jake Carpenter developed Wheelhouse, an app that provides career and technical education for the marine and ocean industries.
Third place, Futr Self: Emily Niebuhr, Ben Matheson, and Katvita Jattansingh devised a simple way for companies to improve their own business outcomes by increasing their employees’ financial wellness through a hassle-free, reasonably priced solution that helps weather times when they are short on cash.
Northern Hydro Farm: Ryan Mortenson wrote a business plan for an indoor hydroponic vertical farm consisting of salad greens and cherry tomatoes for sale in Bethel.
Litter Defender: Karen Remick came up with a dog-proof cat litter box.
Tandem Labs: Conroy Whitney came up with Tandem Labs, a “Startup Studio”: a startup to build startups that provides money and mentorship as well as an experienced team of designers, developers, project managers, marketers and salespeople.