Competition Sparks Growth for Alaska Small Businesses
CORDOVA – Four years ago, Diana Riedel juggled razors, pins and a two-year-old child in the kitchen of her pint-sized apartment.
One of the women behind Dineega Specialty Furs, Riedel said her family had been sewing sea otter and seal pelts for generations, but it wasn’t until the homegrown business received a $30,000 award through Alaska Marketplace things began to pick up steam. Riedel was able to acquire a workshop, hire local employees and “do quite a bit more marketing.”
“There was no way I could have afforded it before,” Riedel said. “I really appreciate what they did.”
The Marketplace, a statewide competition operated by the Alaska Federation of Natives, partners financiers with local businesses to encourage sustainable, innovative entrepreneurship and economic growth in communities across Alaska. Dozens of businesses have leveraged more than $1.5 million in state and private funding since the competition’s inception in 2005, and Reidel said the startup money was integral to growing her own company.
“It took my business from just an at-home business to really professional,” she said.
Now, she’s leveraging it in a different way – teaching local girls the furrier’s art and passing down the skills taught by generations of women before her. Riedel said her great-grandmother’s Athabascan name meant “one who sews well,” and with careful practice and the financial support of Alaska Marketplace, the tradition remains strong in Cordova.
Elsewhere in the Last Frontier, the competition has funded everything from local tour companies to businesses selling glacial mud spa products, locally harvested shellfish and handmade Alaska Native arts and crafts. In many communities, the awards provided a strong business foundation for longstanding cultural staples.
Riedel said she’s also teaching her daughter, six-year-old Kiley, to follow in her family’s footsteps.
“She’s actually of age where I can start training her, too,” Riedel said.
With the Gulf of Alaska sea otter population on the upswing, she said her business’s economic future is bright. Her community’s is, too.
“The resource is so plentiful here, I would definitely recommend more people try making a living by it,” Riedel said.
The application process for the 2012 Alaska Marketplace awards, themed "Investing in You," opens May 18. To apply, click here.