STARTUP WEEK 2020: We need each other, now more than ever
The Techstars Alaska Startup Week op-ed series features entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial ecosystem builders sharing their thoughts and ideas on a variety of topics related to startups and innovation. Techstars Alaska Startup Week is a week-long series of events hosted by entrepreneurs and business leaders from across the state. In 2020, all events are virtual, and you can find them here: Startup Week Schedule. All are welcome, please join us!
As I look back on Techstars Alaska Startup Week 2020, the first fully virtual startup week in Alaska’s history, my biggest lesson — one that I learned again and again — is how much we need each other, now more than ever. Entrepreneurs, investors, consultants, ecosystem builders, dreamers, community champions, and more, despite being physically distant from one another, none of us exist in a vacuum.
This week we’ve seen subject matter experts share their knowledge in marketing webinars, business owners give a tour of their spaces, entrepreneurs tell the stories of their experiences with failure and resilience. We’ve met people who have been in the startup world for years, and people who are just getting started. We’ve “traveled” from Juneau to Kodiak to Anchorage to Fairbanks and more, all within the span of a few days. And through it, we’ve learned, we’ve celebrated, we’ve challenged, and we’ve grown.
Most of all, we’ve connected.
When I was organizing the Facebook premier of The Failure // Resilience Project, Ben Kellie — a seasoned entrepreneur whose startup, The Launch Company, is being acquired by Voyager Space Holdings — wrote me a note that said, “I’m starved for community right now so I was stoked to get the email invitation for the event.”
Earlier this month I collaborated with HairVoyage, a beauty tech startup that offers paid peer mentorship experiences to beauty professionals around the world. Founder MaryAlice Turletes told me that, “In the process of building HairVoyage we learned that connectedness drives everything — you can be a part of many communities but igniting individual connections is what brings to life the power of any community.”
HairVoyage most likely wouldn’t exist, and certainly not in its current iteration, without this community. It was born during a Startup Weekend, and gained investment during the Alaska Angel Conference. Along the way, Turletes and her business partner Dana Herndon have built relationships with and learned from numerous local entrepreneurs and engaged with ecosystem building organizations like the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development, 49 State Angel Fund, Juneau Economic Development Council, and the Alaska Small Business Development Center.
On Wednesday, I had the privilege of being invited to Spruce Root’s Master Class as a mentor, and “speed dated” a handful of Southeast Alaska companies. My major takeaway was how much each founder cares about and invests in their community, and how in turn, their community cares about and invests in them.
Launch Alaska, a startup accelerator in Anchorage, held the second session of their Tech Deployment Tract, where panelists open up their figurative roledexs to help startup founders make connections with subject matter experts and potential customers in Alaska. This is motivated in part by excitement around innovative new solutions to challenging problems, but mostly out of a genuine desire to help, to share in someone else's success.
At each event, whether a webinar where experts freely shared information that they could charge hundreds of dollars for, or founders excitedly touring us through their workshops and explaining the many, often laborious, steps they’d taken to ensure their spaces were safe for employees and customers alike, the investment in each other was clear.
We’re not going to make it out of the pandemic unchanged, nor should we. As we move closer to what appears to be a successful vaccine, I hope that a return to “normal” does not mean a return to “same.” Instead, may we all learn from our experience and emerge stronger, smarter, and better - as a community.
There’s still time to join Startup Week!
4:30 PM - Business and Brew: The Uncle Leroy’s Coffee Story
10:00 AM - Alaska BIPOC Business Development Summit
10:30 AM - K-12: One Tree Alaska Participatory Action Research Collaborative
Details: Techstars Alaska Startups Week 2020
Gretchen Fauske is a marketing-minded economic developer fueled by a passion for innovation and entrepreneurship. She is the associate director for the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development, Board President for Launch Alaska, Vice Chair for Anchorage Downtown Partnership, and a Gallup-certified CliftonStrengths coach.