In today's economy, change is opportunity

Monday, September 19, 2016

News-Miner Community Perspective:

Einstein got it right when he said “imagination is ... the preview of life’s coming attractions.” In Interior Alaska, we have to use our imaginations to create and secure our future.

Recently, in the greater Fairbanks community, the downtown Second Ave. corridor has enjoyed a renaissance with many new businesses, including Venue, The Hub and Lavelle’s Taphouse — all three integrating technology to redefine the way we commune in public places to meet the needs of a changing population. Downtown is reimagining itself in the image of an emerging demographic of young professionals, budding entrepreneurs and international tourism traffic. These opportunities extend well beyond downtown to the opposite side of town, even at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Budget and personnel changes at UAF continue to slowly reshape how business is done both on and off campus. One change is an emphasis on the development of new University/industry partnerships and the creation of technology enterprise in Alaska. One example of this partnership is SBDC’s E3 Arctic program (http://www.e3arctic.org/), which matches available energy technology, such as micro grids and sensors developed at the University, with customers and financing for implementation. Market portals such as this make it possible to validate technology products and services developed locally and make them accessible to specialized markets, inside and outside of Alaska, with comparative ease.

There is no shortage of growth opportunities in Fairbanks. However, challenges such as the high cost of energy and transportation are limiting factors, and many ideas are not sustainable in the Interior economy. Ever wondered how to figure out which ones actually can work and why?

Curated startup events such as hackathons, startup weekends and the Arctic Innovation Competition create opportunities for entrepreneurs to test drive ideas to see what is possible before making a large financial commitment.

Startup Weekend Fairbanks is coming up next Friday through Sunday. Startup weekends are hands-on, facilitated experiences where people come together, imagine the world through new eyes, and do the impossible by building products and companies in 54 hours. Business resources, such as lawyers, accountants and other entrepreneurs from the community, serve as coaches, mentors and speakers to help participants work through their business concepts so they can learn the skills necessary to identify and validate new ideas, and prepare to start and grow scalable businesses that meet actual needs in the community.

Ideas are pitched Friday night, teams are formed and by Sunday evening, a minimal viable product is presented to and rated by a panel of judges. Prizes will include actual mentor time, access to co-working space and practical tools necessary for doing business in today’s business environment — including the eligibility to apply for a 0 percent interest microloan through KIVA.org and the opportunity to compete for a spot to win cash prizes at the Arctic Innovation Competition on Oct. 22.

The event is sponsored by Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation, Alaska Small Business Development Center, UAF’s Office of Intellectual Property, and Alaska EPSCoR. It takes place at The Hub downtown from Sept. 23-25, with food provided by some of Fairbanks’ best new micro-business food trucks.

I invite you to take a few moments to reflect on what I’ve shared. And then ask yourself:

What kind of Fairbanks do you want to live in?

To register, go to: fairbanks.startupweekend.org.

Juliet Shepherd a Project Manager at the Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation. She can be reached at jshepherd@investfairbanks.com