Perfect Pitch crowns winners while contributing to economic development
by Mariah Oxford |
The minutes ticked by slowly the evening of Friday, March 26, as competitors and participants waited for the results of Perfect Pitch, the final event in the 2021 Business Plan Competition sponsored by the UAA College of Business and Public Policy (CBPP). This year the competition was open to both UAA students and members of the community.
The four finalists had presented their pitches to seven judges and 80 attendees. While judges entered a Zoom breakout room to deliberate, attendees cast their votes for the People’s Choice Award. The result? Telequana Outdoor Journeys and Tiny Haven tied for People’s Choice. Then they swept the rest of the awards, too.
“Judging the excellent submissions in the Business Plan Competition this year was an absolute joy,” said Joe Zimmerman, business owner and chair of CBPP’s advisory board. “It was inspiring to review the creative ideas submitted and the solid plans for putting these concepts into practice. I see a lot of successes for our economy as plans such as these contribute to our future.”
Kiana Till developed the concept and business plan behind Telequana Outdoor Journeys, which took the grand prize, tied for People’s Choice and also won the First Fortune $500 Award sponsored by Alaskan Data Solutions, for a total of $7,250. Kiana is a student at Alaska Pacific University who became intrigued with ecotourism opportunities in the Lake Clark area while interning with the National Park Service in 2018. Her startup seeks to provide Indigenously influenced ecotourism experiences in Qizhjeh Vena (Lake Clark). Business partners include Karen Evanoff, a cultural anthropologist with Lake Clark National Park, and Danielle Stickman, both of Dena’ina Athabascan descent.
“We want to redefine opportunity for adventure in Alaska by including Alaska Native people in the tourism industry,” said Till. “I am so passionate about our women-owned ecotourism business, because people in this region need jobs and they are going to be excellent candidates to hire. Winning this money really helps our startup and will go a long way. I am so grateful for this opportunity.”
UAA psychology senior Aimee Hassell with Tiny Haven wants to build a community of tiny homes to provide affordable student housing during the school year and accommodations for tourists in the summer months. In addition to her People’s Choice co-win, Hassell earned second prize for her business plan, awarding her $3,750 toward realizing her dream.
The 2021 competition started in October 2020 and included multiple events for competitors to receive guidance and insights from a panel of business executives, entrepreneurs and investors. “It’s a tremendous experience for all the entrepreneurial competitors,” said John Nofsinger, CBPP interim dean. “They get education, mentoring and exposure to successful business professionals. All of the participants this year were terrific and I endeavor to witness their ideas flourish.”
“The mentors and judges’ feedback was incredibly helpful,” said Hassell. “Defending your business plan is a lot like defending a thesis: You are suddenly very aware of how sound your theory is! It's also really great to see what other students and startup businesses are doing to make their futures bright, while making Alaska a better place to live.”
“At its core, this competition aims to inspire entrepreneurship that can contribute to economic growth in Alaska and to provide a forum for community engagement,” said competition organizer Helena Wisniewski, Ph.D., who is a seasoned entrepreneur herself and chair of the Department of Management, Marketing, Logistics and Business Analytics. “It was exciting to see the diversity of the startups and the business acumen shown in the final pitches. It confirmed the talent we have in Alaska to grow and diversify the economy.”
Judges for the 2021 competition included Wisniewski and Zimmerman, along with Joel Yarmon, Steve Socolof, Jon Bittner, James Kostka, Allan Johnston, Candy Fitzpatrick and Greg Wolf.
Community sponsors included Northrim Bank, Mr. Allan Johnston and Alaskan Data Solutions, which created the new First Fortune $500 Award.