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Groups form business competition in Southeast

JUNEAU (AP) — Two organizations have teamed up to spur business development in southeast Alaska by hosting a competition.

Haa Aaní, LLC, and the Nature Conversancy are combining forces to fund a $500,000 business plan contest, CoastAlaska reported.

The Path to Prosperity project is aimed at, but not limited to, smaller communities.

"Our focus has to be on providing opportunities for families and residents to remain in these rural communities," Russell Dick, president and CEO of Haa Aaní, LLC, a subsidiary of the Juneau-based Sealaska regional Native corporation, said.

Southeast residents, businesses and tribal entities can submit proposals.

"This is really a program about creating entrepreneurship, creating business, creating economic development in a way that utilizes our natural resources within the communities to sustain lifestyles," Dick said.

"Our theory of change is that there are other uses of forest products and activities that can take place in the forest that can be a strong economic opportunity that will last for a long period of time without jeopardizing use for future generations," said Norm Cohen, Southeast program director for The Nature Conservancy.

A dozen finalists will gather in Juneau for a boot camp to learn about business development and writing business plans. Two winners in each of the three rounds will get up to $40,000 in consulting and technical services, like trademarks and patents.

"Hopefully by the end of the second year, after continued development of their business plan, our goal is to put them in contact, or partner them, with organizations that can provide venture capital funding, financing and other types of loans," he said.

The Nature Conservancy is providing a $250,000 grant for the program, and Haa Aani is providing an equal amount in staff time and other resources.

The plan is not without critics, including shareholder Brad Fluetsch of Juneau. The private financial manager also is the moderator of the 4,400-member Facebook site Sealaska Shareholders.

"It’s a business competition because the management of Haa Aaní is completely devoid of ideas, comprehension or ability to manage a business," he said.

He said he has written business plans for commercial village ventures like harvesting berries, growing peonies for the wedding market, and collecting wild mushrooms.

Dick said he was aware of the proposals, and added Fluetsch was welcome to submit the ideas in the contest.