By Kelly Harrell, Executive Director
AMCC decided to take the plunge this spring and submit our concept for scaling up local seafood sales through creation of the Alaska Community Seafood Hub to the international fisheries-focused business plan competition known as Fish 2.0. This was the second time the ground-breaking competition has been hosted after first launching to high acclaim in 2013. For those in the fisheries world, Fish 2.0 quickly became the go-to place for those interested in advancing cutting-edge business models focused on the triple-bottom line of social, environmental, and economic impact.
The rigorous competition is divided into four phases with only those with top scores advancing on to the next stage. Detailed financial projections, plans for dealing with competition, and social and environmental metrics were all part of the process. 170 companies applied and AMCC continued to advance to the next stage, eventually emerging at the top of the pack. In September, we learned we were one of 18 finalists that would give a 5-minute pitch to a crowd of funders and investors at Stanford in November. The competition provided some great resources along the way: expert advisors to help us with our submissions and seasoned coaches to help us polish our pitch to perfection.
When I left Alaska to head to Stanford last week, situated in the heart of Silicon Valley, I had no idea what to expect. I was thrilled that AMCC made it to the finals for our place-based, social enterprise business model and honored to be part of a global gathering of innovative fisheries entrepreneurs. I was both nervous and excited at the opportunity to share our work with other fish businesses and impact investors.
On the first day of the competition, I was put at ease by the amazing camaraderie in the crowd. It was clear that given the fisheries challenges that we face around the planet from, we truly are all in this together. A few faces were familiar as friends from Salty Girls Seafood and Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust were also finalists. Colleagues from Real Good Fish, Credibles, as well as another Alaska competitor, ORCA (Ocean Rich Communities of Alaska), and Ian Dutton from Anchorage, now with Nautilus Impact Investing were also present. Off the Hook Seafood Hub from Nova Scotia and Smart Fish based out of La Paz, Mexico which both have similar business models to ours were also finalists and runners up. As an Alaskan, I of course had mixed feelings about the number of aquaculture focused businesses in the competition. But I was pleased to see the advances being made in land-based aquaculture systems as well as innovations in fish feed made from insects and algae, as opposed to wild fish. A large number of Pacific Islanders were present, as well as companies from Thailand, Switzerland, and Australia. Environmental funders and impact investors from groups like RSF Social Finance, the Calvert Foundation, and Aqua Spark rounded out the crowd.
My pitch came on the second day of the competition within a pool of four other businesses considered at growth stage (more than 3 years of revenue). Most of the other businesses in the track included the Pacific Islanders running compelling businesses to help further the interests of their small island communities. I was first up to deliver my pitch and was thrilled to do so calmly and without forgetting my lines. Giving a business pitch in front of an audience of 250+ folks was completely new to me, and memorizing every line of the 5-minute pitch took at least one hundred rounds of practice. I felt I answered the judge’s questions well during the 8-minute question and answer session, and was thoroughly relieved when it was finally over and I could step down from the stage.
In each of the three tracks, two businesses were selected as winners to receive $5,000 in cash along with the recognition that comes along with having top scores. At the end of the competition, when it was announced we were one of the winners in our track, it was really icing on the cake by that point. I was honored to get to be up on the stage with the other winners and of course excited to take home $5,000 for AMCC. But by then, we all knew that nearly everyone in the crowd was worthy of that level of recognition and support. Fishing is behind the game when it comes to smart innovations in technology and business to help further the long-term health of our fisheries, oceans and coastal communities. We truly are all swimming together, and it was eye-opening to view our work as part of a national and global mosaic of fish-focused entrepreneurial efforts. We certainly plan to stay connected with other businesses and contacts we met at Fish 2.0, especially those advancing seafood hub models, and are hopeful that the exposure results in increased support for our work.
In September, AMCC also learned that the Alaska Community Seafood Hub received a $96,000 grant from the USDA Local Foods Promotion Program. With this support, we will hire a full-time staff member that is solely focused on local seafood sales and operations. We’ll also engage a communications firm to help create the Alaska Community Seafood Hub brand. This funding will be critical in allowing us to expand our seafood offerings, better serve our current customers, and expand to new communities in Alaska.
Adding to the momentum are discussions AMCC has been in with economic players and food businesses about bringing food hubs to Alaska, including a facility in Anchorage that would have amenities like a commercial kitchen and freezer storage space. AMCC and the Alaska Food Policy Council helped bring a Wallace Center workshop on food hubs to Anchorage in October that was attended by food leaders from across the state.
None of this progress would have been possible without the support of our Catch of the Season customers, the fishermen and processors we work with, Kodiak Jig supporters, members, and partners like you. You have made it possible for us to successfully build a local seafood sales program that connects Alaskans to our local fishermen and coastal communities. Thank you so much for your support and stay tuned for more to come soon!