Despite Dismal Report, Alaska Sees Upswing in Women in Business (KTVA.com exclusive)
Female entrepreneurs on the rise statewide
ANCHORAGE - A recently released report reveals Alaska ranks last among states when it comes to the annual increase in women-owned businesses, but the entrepreneurs behind those numbers said they’re on the way up.
Last week marked the inaugural Alaska Business Women's Summit, and Jennifer Christensen, director of the Women Entrepreneurs of Alaska, said the event brought together nearly 90 businesswomen from around the state to network and trade selling savvy.
“The growth of women in business is increasing at a rapid pace,” she said.
Over the last five years, Christensen said she’s seen an influx of women-owned businesses as Alaska’s economy continues to diversify. They include everything from medical and financial firms to media, design and business services, and many of them are smaller, single-woman shops.
Chelsey Homan runs hers out of the old preschool room at Eagle River Presbyterian Church. The high, baby-blue painted walls house Doggy Decadents, Homan’s gourmet dog treat business. An industrial size oven sat in a back corner and the room was lined with racks of baking equipment and bins of flour and other ingredients.
The 22-year-old Eagle River native deals in ground peanut butter rawhide chews, cinnamon-flavored biscuits topped with yogurt drizzles and coconut and turkey bacon-cheddar treats.
She founded the company nearly five years ago after graduating high school and returning from an entrepreneurship camp at Cornell University, but said she never expected it to come as far as it did.
“It was more just, kind of a side project to get some experience,” Homan said, tucking her hands into her jean pockets as she stood in the middle of the room. A few feet away, her five-year-old husky mix, Skipper, napped in a sunbeam underneath the counter, and she said he was the primary inspiration for her teenage startup. Her short brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail and she wore a Doggy Decadents t-shirt underneath her white North Face jacket.
After mixing her first biscuit dough in her parent’s kitchen and selling her treats at Anchorage markets in the summertime, Homan said the baking business quickly grew into a full-time job. Soon, she had moved in to the old preschool room of her neighborhood church and was juggling ten-hour workdays and more than half-a-dozen wholesale accounts besides her regular sales schedule.
“There’s Friday Flings out in the Valley, there’s Saturday and Sunday markets Downtown, the Midtown market and then there’s the market out in South Anchorage,” she said, counting down with her fingers. The ping of her cell phone interrupted her list. It rang often.
Homan said it took roughly three days to prepare for each show, from baking, decorating and packaging the $10 to $12 bags of boutique dog treats to loading up tables and tents and setting up booths at each event. Last year, she said she made her first hires: two part-time employees to help during the busy summer season.
After four years of reinvesting the company’s earnings in equipment and a website and online shop, she said her business finally pulled a profit last year. Now, she said she was preparing to sign the final paperwork and sell the company to a local bank manager and his wife.