Entrepreneurs get a boost on the Path to Prosperity

Spruce Root awards $50,000 in prizes

Two small businesses in Southeast Alaska each took home a $25,000 prize and a big helping of knowledge and support from the Southeast Conference Mid-Session Summit.

On Tuesday, Ketchikan resident Jack Finnegan, owner of Fishability, and Stormy and Bonnie Hamar, who own Kasaan Arts, Museum, and Canoes, were announced as winners of the Path to Prosperity contest, put on by nonprofit Spruce Root.

This year’s contest focused on supporting businesses that promote sustainable and regenerative tourism.

A panel of judges selected the winners from an initial field of 53 applicants and 12 finalists who attended an intensive business development boot camp sponsored by Spruce Root. Spruce Root is a community development organization that provides local entrepreneurs with access to business development and financial resources to support businesses in Southeast Alaska through increased self-sufficiency.

The boot camp covered how to operate a business that makes communities stronger.

“This program is amazing,” said Sealaska Corp., CEO and President Anthony Mallot as he introduced one of the winners. “They motivate me with their ideas and passion.”

In an interview, Izzy Haywood, Path to Prosperity program administrator for Spruce Root, said that selecting the winners this year was particularly difficult.

“Bonnie and Stormy really stood out because of their deep, deep commitment to their community,” Haywood said.

She noted that the Kasaan Arts, Museum, and Canoes business offers rich cultural experiences and opportunities for visitors to watch a canoe being carved and see stone tools in a locally-curated museum in the small town on Prince of Wales Island.

“They want to serve as a gathering space and keep their culture and art alive and to share that with any visitor who comes. They have so much they want to share, and we thought that was extraordinary.”

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Haywood said that Finnegan’s business model, which seeks to offer on-the-water excursions to people with disabilities and their families on a custom-built vessel designed for universal access, is unique because it fills a niche.

“The population is aging, and we need businesses that can serve people at all ability levels,” she said. “Jack has spent a lot of his life serving people with disabilities and has served as a chartered fishing captain. He’s seen a lot of people with mobility issues, and we need businesses that can serve people at all ability levels.”

“I have to salute other competitors,” said Finnegan as he accepted his award. “I have the utmost admiration and respect for them.”

Finnegan said that as an able-bodied person, the short walk to the podium to claim his award was easy for him and that he didn’t want to take that for granted.

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“For people with disabilities, it’s a complicated undertaking or just not possible,” Finnegan said. “This is the problem we are looking to solve. I am so thrilled and honored with this extraordinary gift.”

Stormy Hamar shared his enthusiasm for the program as he accepted his award.

“We want to be here forever and for our grandkids and great-grandkids to have the same opportunities we did. We just can’t stop, and these great people came along to help us keep doing it,” Stormy Hamar said. “If you aren’t already a supporter of the Spruce Root team, be there to support them.”

Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.