The Bristol Bay Native Corporation has awarded a total of $50,000 to three small enterprises in the region through a business competition. This year’s winners are Sugar and Spice Express in Chignik Lake and Perryville, and two businesses based in Dillingham; Little Alaskan Fish Company and Nick’s Legacy.
The competition is called Path to Prosperity. It’s an opportunity for small businesses in Bristol Bay to go through a kind of boot-camp where they work with experts to improve their operations, from finances to facility upgrades.
The Bristol Bay Development Fund hosts the competition, which aims to foster budding enterprises and support businesses ready to grow. The fund is owned by the Bristol Bay Native Corporation.
“We go out typically around July, early July of every year, and we've done this for two cycles now, and we try to appeal to entrepreneurs — individuals who have concepts,” said Cindy Mittlestadt, the manager of the development fund. “I call them the tinkerers, people who might have an intellectual concept and just don't know what to do with it or where to take it.”
This year two of the businesses were awarded $20,000 each. One was Sugar and Spice Express, a grocery and convenience store with locations in Chignik Lake and Perryville.
Owner June Cagungun said her priority is to bring consistent and reliable grocery service to the villages she serves. She also expedites shipping from Anchorage to make amenities more accessible.
“They can depend on us to have products in the store,” Cagungun said. “My goal is to offer a lot more things in the future, like sale prices, and I want to make it more affordable if I can, as much as I can, to live in the bush.”
The other top awardee was Little Alaskan Fish Company, a family-owned fish processor in Dillingham owned by Tiffany Bennet and Conor Downey. Downey says a major priority for them is to minimize environmental impact and use eco-friendly packaging.
“We found a manufacturer here in the U.S. in the Midwest that makes insulated shippers out of cornstarch polymers,” he said. “They’re completely biodegradable in saltwater or landfills — they’re actually edible.”
Downey said the business is a way for the family to spend more time together.
“A big part of it was wanting to spend our time together,” he said. “The idea of spending 40 hours a week for the next 30 years apart from each other at a standard job just isn’t something that we want for ourselves, our lives, or our futures.”
Nick’s Legacy, a net-hanging company, placed third in the competition. BBNC will cover $10,000 in business costs. The company also received the BBNC Small Business of the Year Award.
Wassillie and Sally Gumlickpuk founded the family-owned operation and named it after Wassilie’s father. Sally said they were honored by the recognition.
“It really made us just proud and we were just so happy,” she said. “Of course they recognize my late father-in-law and we also got Business of the Year Award.”
Their son, Josh, said they want to use some of the funds to update how they organize their finances.
“We were looking into modernizing the way we operate,” he said. “So basically, my mom, she's handled most of the finance and invoice. We're thinking about, instead of doing the old school paper and pencil keeping track of invoice and proceeds, we're thinking about using QuickBooks.”
Josh said the family also hopes to use the award money to build a shed so he and his brother can work with their father to hang nets.
Businesses in Bristol Bay can apply to next year’s competition at bbnc.com. To find out more contact the Bristol Bay Development Fund at (907) 301-0504.
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