Last year, Launch Alaska’s Demo Day highlighted four teams of founders ready for investment, and this spring the Alaska Business Plan Competition showcased nine finalists from a field of 60+ as they competed to win prizes. Events like this give startups an opportunity to be seen by investors, mentors, policy makers, and the public while inspiring future entrepreneurs.
New this year was the North by North Festival, presented by the Arctic Council Host Committee, the Anchorage Museum, Institute of the North, and others.
I attended NxN Innovate Arctic, the brainchild of Ross Johnston and executed in conjunction with Isaac Vandenburg of Launch Alaska and Carrie Shephard of Toast of the Town. One of the event goals was to harness “the past pioneer spirit that defined Alaskans for for generations; that can-do attitude that insists with a roll of duct tape we can make a plane fly” and the planning team definitely succeeded.
As I sat in the darkened auditorium filled with people, I was riveted but the creativity and energy of the speakers. Topics included the gamification of education, parallels between arctic and space technology, creating farms in shipping containers, using fungi for insulation, and more. We learned that the North American electric grid is the largest and most complex machine produced by man, and that there are three types of projects: 1) crazy, 2) good, and 3) crazy good.
Featured speakers and topics included “Arcticficial Intelligence” by Morten Brugard of Innovate Norway; “Starships and the Arctic” by Andreas Tziolas, co-Founder of Icarus interstellar; and, “How the Energy System of the Future is being Pioneered in Alaska” by Gwen Holdman, of the Alaska Center for Energy & Power.
Additional festival events, organized by Nils Andreassen of the Institute of the North, included policy discussions, a dance party, a film festival, and food truck roundup.
Overall, NxN was incredibly inspiring, and as Ross says, it was an opportunity to “change the state dialogue away from doom and gloom to the future of possibilities. By expanding the lexicon to include innovation, we are inspiring a better future for us all.”
Changing the dialogue is essential; Alaska has much to celebrate and our future is bright, but we need to expand our vision for the future to include not just our major industries – oil and gas, fishing, tourism, and mining – but also startups and corporate innovators. There is great opportunity in so many areas: lifestyle businesses offering new products or experiences, scalable businesses attracting investment and customers across the globe, and big ideas or shifts in thinking that haven’t even been dreamed up yet.
Change is often uncomfortable but we need to try new things that might scare us a bit, harness our fear and uncertainty and use it to achieve transformation. Do you have an idea for a business or product that you’d like to explore? A new initiative at work to launch? A problem you’ve been putting off solving?
Now is the time.
Come to Alaska Startup Week, meet new people, challenge yourself to think differently, test your ideas, and learn about the tools available for those brave enough to embark on a startup journey of their own.
Be part of building Alaska’s future.