Eric Fullerton makes his investment pitch during the Alaska Tourism Industry Association’s version of “Shark Tank” during their annual conference, held this year at Centennial Center, Oct. 9, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Eric Fullerton makes his investment pitch during the Alaska Tourism Industry Association’s version of “Shark Tank” during their annual conference, held this year at Centennial Center, Oct. 9, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Small businesses win big in Alaska version of ‘Shark Tank’

The mock game show was hosted at a yearly Alaskan tourism conference

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story misidentified a company as Go Hike Alaska. The company’s name is Hike Alaska. It has since been updated.

The Alaska Travel Industry Association’s annual conference was punctuated Wednesday by the homegrown Alaska tourism version of the game show “Shark Tank.”

Applicants to the competition pitched their ideas to a panel of three industry executives with the hope of winning cash prizes to advance their business. Scott Habberstad from Alaska Airlines, Heather Handyside from GCI, and Dale Wade from Alaska Railroad judged nine competitors and awarded $17,000 dollars in varying amounts to several contestants.

Contestants came pitching everything from expanded marketing for their snowshoe tour business to improved lifesaving gear for their boat tours.

KellyAnn Cavaretta waits as the judges deliberate over her investment pitch during the Alaska Tourism Industry Association’s version of “Shark Tank” during their annual conference, held this year at Centennial Center, Oct. 9, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

KellyAnn Cavaretta waits as the judges deliberate over her investment pitch during the Alaska Tourism Industry Association’s version of “Shark Tank” during their annual conference, held this year at Centennial Center, Oct. 9, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

“It feels great,” said one winner, KellyAnn Cavaretta.

Cavaretta was promoting Salted Roots, a nature retreat in Seward based on coastal A-frame cabins, built for a new generation of travelers who want different amenities in their vacations than baby boomers did, such as more of an experience and more distance from civilization. Her ask for $5,000 was to improve her marketing model. Cavaretta also won the crowd favorite award, receiving another $2,000.

“It’s about the exposure,” Cavaretta said, echoing an oft-heard refrain of the conference.

Cavaretta and other competitors had to stand and deliver their pitch on stage before the judges and a crowd of hundreds of peers. They had a limited period of time to pitch their request, and judges asked questions about things such as viability, market and scalability afterwards. Some competitors dressed soberly, but some were more eye-catching, including at least on competitor dressed as Elvis, Eric Fullerton.

Matt Worden makes his investment pitch during the Alaska Tourism Industry Association’s version of “Shark Tank” during their annual conference, held this year at Centennial Center, Oct. 9, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Matt Worden makes his investment pitch during the Alaska Tourism Industry Association’s version of “Shark Tank” during their annual conference, held this year at Centennial Center, Oct. 9, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Matt Worden, owner of Hike Alaska, was another big winner, netting $5,000 for expanded kit to scale his business up incrementally after a quietly successful first year in operation in Anchorage. Dressed in a full snowsuit, snowshoes and hiking kit, Worden shot his shot after feeding judges the same locally sourced food that he feeds his guests.

“It’s kind of like a dream come true,” Worden said. “It’s going to help me get to the next place along the way.”

Worden is working on expanding his off-season business, getting into team-building hikes and other ways of keeping a steady business.

Other winners included Alice Bioff of Naataq Gear and Ian Laing of Laing & Co, who each won $2,500.

Judges and competitors pose for a photo after participating in the Alaska Tourism Industry Association’s version of “Shark Tank” during their annual conference, held this year at Centennial Center, Oct. 9, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Judges and competitors pose for a photo after participating in the Alaska Tourism Industry Association’s version of “Shark Tank” during their annual conference, held this year at Centennial Center, Oct. 9, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)


• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.


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