Launch Alaska is ready for liftoff
Alaska’s first accelerator is working towards opening future markets in the state.
Isaac Vanderburg is the managing director of Launch Alaska, which offers seed money and coaching to startup companies.
Typically, there are several hundred people who express interest each round, but Launch Alaska ends up selecting just a handful for funding — last year’s cohort consisted of four. Companies must have working prototypes and service and must be post revenue, revenue ready and in series B to be considered.
After accepting, the cohort is put through an intense four-month program. Vanderburg says a small portion of the applicants are from Alaska — less than 5 percent — but hopes over time, that number will increase.
“For us to invest in a company, we want them to solve some problem in Alaska that’s also a problem relevant to global markets elsewhere,” Vanderburg said.
While out-of-state entities expressing interest is exciting, Vanderburg is excited that Alaskan corporations are supporting the accelerator model. Several native corporations have invested in the fund, including CIRI and NANA.
“This is a huge development for the state. It’s a very big deal for everyone, no matter which part of the ecosystem you’re working on,” Vanderburg said.
Vanderburg said a friend once told him that a startup needs three things: capital, a market and talent, but Alaska poses different obstacles than startups do in the Lower 48.
“In Alaska, there are a few small funds that have started, but there are not traditional [venture capital] funds and seed and series A and B funds — so the capital isn’t really there yet — the risk capital,” Vanderburg said. “The market is small, we don’t have a bunch of people. Even though the state is huge — from a startup perspective — it’s not a huge market. The talent thing — the state has one university as opposed to a place like Boston, where there are more universities than I can count, and you have national labs [and] huge corporates across a bunch of different sectors.”
Launch Alaska currently has 13 portfolio companies, each in the food, water, transportation or energy sector. One that is making headway is BoxPower, an energy company that specializes in portable solar power systems.
Last fall, BoxPower delivered three containers to Buckland, Alaska, located in the Northwest Arctic Borough. According to the Department of Energy. BoxPower’s solar containers will provide 47,000-kilowatt hours of energy, which is less than half the cost of diesel generation.
For the business model to be successful, people that live in Buckland need to understand how to use the technology. BoxPower trains community members on how the panels work and how to repair them, if needed.
Vanderburg says Alaska is a gateway to much larger markets. The state has more than 250 independent utilities with a high demand for energy and are always on the hunt for new tech.
“A large part of what I’m excited about with all of our companies is that we are not relying on state or public funding for these companies,” Vanderburg said. “We have private investors who are backing these companies and are saying, ‘As part of your pathway to scale your revenue, we as private investors will invest in your company and deployment in Alaska so that you open up future markets.’”
He hopes later down the road, Launch Alaska can grow its portfolio and attract investment to the state.
“This is privately funded workforce development and a long term source of employment in the community,” Vanderburg said.