Startup Week 2019: Entrepreneurship transforms economies, communities and individuals

  • Erin Baca, Co-chair of 2019 Alaska Startup Week and Associate at 49th State Angel Fund. (Photo/Courtesy/Erin Baca)

It’s hard to know what’s going to change your life. Decisions like choosing a spouse, becoming a parent, or purchasing a home will obviously make an impact, but sometimes an innocuous-seeming choice can reroute your trajectory, spinning you into a world you didn’t know existed. 

Take Erin Baca, for example. She was working at a project management firm in 2017 when she decided on a whim to sign up for Startup Weekend

Startup Weekend is a 54-hour weekend event during which participants pitch ideas for new startup companies, form teams around the ideas, and then work to develop a prototype to present at a demonstration event on Sunday evening. Some of Alaska’s best known startups — Pandere Shoes, Attently, and 60 Hertz — originated at Startup Weekends. 

Baca says her participation was a pivotal moment in her career.

“It took me supremely out of my comfort zone and introduced me to an entirely new group of people I never would have met otherwise,” she said.

“I also discovered previously untapped talent and passion in myself, which I’ve been able to convert into a career path where I can live my values every day.”

Countless participants have gone on to apply lessons learned as they launch companies, work for startups, or support them in other ways. Today, Baca is an associate at the 49th State Angel Fund, a venture capital function run by the Municipality of Anchorage that invests in high-growth businesses. She helps organize the Alaska Angel Conference, volunteered at a recent Startup Weekend, and is the 2019 co-chair of Alaska’s Startup Week, which is November 18-24. 

People holding jobs like Baca’s are considered “entrepreneurial ecosystem builders” — those who help develop opportunities, make resources available, and build a supportive community to advance entrepreneurship. 

If Baca’s job sounds like fun, it is. But it’s also vitally important to Alaska’s economy.

Over the last decade, startups in Alaska consistently added 4,000 to 6,000 jobs to the economy each year. Firms that are aged five years or younger accounted for 89% of Alaska’s net employment growth in the private sector, making a compelling reason to support high-growth entrepreneurship in Alaska.

“People succeeding in the state is fundamentally good for everyone, but it goes beyond financial returns and economic returns. It’s also good for community returns,” says Baca. 

Continuing to grow Alaska’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is one of the reasons Baca signed up to co-chair Startup Week. 

Startup Week brings entrepreneurs, local leaders, and friends together to build momentum and opportunity around entrepreneurship in Alaska. Similar celebrations happen across the world, and Alaska’s Startup Week is timed to coincide with Global Entrepreneurship Week to leverage international connections.

Baca is joined by Pamela Parker, founder of Everything Bagels located in Soldotna, as co-chair.

A math teacher turned entrepreneur, Parker always knew she wanted to start her own business. It look a move across the country and the search for a bagel to suit her East Coast cravings to inspire the launch Everything Bagels.

Pamela Parker, Co-chair of 2019 Alaska Startup Week and founder of Everything Bagels. (Photo/Courtesy/ Alaska Small Business Development Center)

A little more than three years after opening, Parker is immersed in Alaska’s startup scene; she led Startup Week for Kenai and Soldotna in 2018 and she stepped into the statewide role this year.

Parker says she noticed that other communities, like Anchorage and Fairbanks, had strong and developing entrepreneurial ecosystems, but didn’t see something similar on the Kenai Peninsula. After discussing with other local business owners, she says they decided to find opportunities to engage with each other in more meaningful ways. 

“Startup Week gives me an excuse to step out of my business for a moment and learn about the amazing things that are going on in our community. It allows me to get tips from other small business owners and inspires me to try new things,” says Parker.

“You just get this feeling being in the room with other movers and shakers that you just want to go out and do something. It reminds you why you’re doing the whole crazy entrepreneurship thing in the first place. It makes it even better knowing that I can help others in their communities achieve this same feeling by helping to coordinate the statewide effort.”

Venture capitalist Brad Feld, known for co-founding Techstars, his work at the Foundry Group, and writing a series of books about entrepreneurship (Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City is particularly well known) says that communities should offer a myriad of events that appeal to the interests of a wide-range of entrepreneurs. 

Accessing community is an important component of entrepreneurial development. Entrepreneurs can grow their networks and connect with collaborators, mentors, investors, and more. Additionally, events offer the opportunity for participants to gain new knowledge or skills, test out ideas, and meet future customers. 

“Any one of these events may seem trivial by itself, but the combination of all of them happening continuously over a long period of time and being inclusive of anyone who wants to engage in them and being led by entrepreneurs is what empowers,” says Feld.

Although there’s still a lot of growing to do, through Startup Weekend and Startup Week — along with weekly 1 Million Cups pitches, numerous idea or business plan competitions, conferences, and other events — Alaska is on its way to providing the rich landscape of events described by Feld. 

If you’d like to be part of Alaska’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, consider participating in a Startup Week event. It’s an easy and fun way to get involved as an entrepreneur, an ecosystem builder, or someone who’s curious and wants to learn more. You never know — stopping by might just be one of those choices that changes your life!

Gretchen Fauske is a marketing-minded economic developer fueled by a passion for entrepreneurship, innovation, and small business. She is the associate director for the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development, Board President for Launch Alaska, and a Gallup-certified CliftonStrengths coach.

11/18/2019 - 10:16am