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Wrangell entrepreneur among P2P finalists


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The 12 finalists (from left to right): Matthew Anderstrom, Adventure Alaska (Yakutat); Carrie Sykes, Cultural Campus & Whale House Tours (Kasaan); Rob Miller, Sea Fur Sewing (Sitka); Ian Seward, Fairweather Ski Works, LLC (Haines); James A. Edens, Edens Marine Resources (Wrangell); John Foss, SeaMonster Seafoods and Sweet Meats (Juneau); Jeff Sheakley, Sheakley Wood Products (Kake); Seth Scrimsher, Tonka Seafoods Inc. (Petersburg); Aimmee Youmans, The Annaken House (Gustavus); Bobbi Daniels, The Sawmill Farm (Sitka); Marc Wheeler, Coppa (Juneau)

Innovations continue to flow from Wrangell as the Path to Prosperity (P2P), an annual competition for entrepreneurs, announced that James Edens and his concept for Edens Marine Resources will be among the 12 competitors moving on to the final round of the contest.

"I'm trying to use fishery byproducts in a creative way," Edens said. He's looking to turn the biomass discarded by fisheries - heads, entrails, bones and such - into useable, marketable products, such as fuel for diesel vehicles.

"As many entrepreneurs will understand, I've come into a few roadblocks and had to adapt," he said, freshly returned from a week of consultation with P2P experts and guest speakers. "The main focus was business plan development, and everything is done with sustainability in mind - both economic, social and environmental sustainability."

P2P Administrator Alana Peterson said that triple bottom line of business practices is something Haa Aani and the Nature Conservancy, creators of the contest, highly endorse.

The bottom line of business isn't simply turning a profit, it's ensuring that there will be a profit to turn in the coming years by not overtaxing local resources, she said, adding that Edens' idea of a value-added product was exemplary in that respect.

Peterson said his idea had grown immensely since his original submission, and its evolution had been cause for no small anxiety at first.

"He was pretty worried about it, but I told him, 'this is the real world - we don't expect you to stick exactly to your idea if it's not right for you or your business,'" she said. "He was relieved and came out of (the entrepreneur boot camp) feeling confident and knowing what to do with it. His idea has grown legs."

Though he's still adjusting to the diversification and reality checks he encountered along the way in consultations with specialists, Edens said he remained confident going into the second round of the competition where he will have to develop a formal, written business plan for his venture to be judged.

"I'm feeling pretty good, despite the roadblocks that I've discovered," he said. "I think with the advice from the Alaskan Small Business Association in Ketchikan and all the resources from Haa Aani I've got a pretty good chance."

Yet even if he's not among the winners this year, Edens said he still intends to bring his ideas into reality, off the business plan page and into business in Wrangell.

"I have a variety of ideas I want to implement in the next few years, and there's a good possibility, even if I don't win, I'll be moving forward with one of them," he said.

Edens has been a resident of Wrangell for eight years and currently is employed by the Transportation Security Administration, as well as continuing his longtime work as a professional photographer. He currently holds a seat on Wrangell's Economic Development Board, which expires in 2016.

Last year, the first for the P2P competition, ended with another Wrangell innovator, Steve Helgeson, taking one of the two final prizes for his concept of Raven Guitars, which he collaborated on with Hoonah resident Kevin Skeek.

Since then, the two have been doing research and training, studying with Master Luthier Charles Fox in Portland, Ore.

"It was a very interesting and challenging experience," Helgeson said. He's spending his time recently to develop the acoustic prototypes for a dreadnaught and an orchestral OM model guitar using the superior, readily available Sitka Spruce tree to create high-quality sound boards for the guitars.

Helgeson said he planned to start small, crafting guitars out of local Alaskan lumber to grow the business while staying financially in the black, a business plan that was running only a little behind early expectations of employing 10 workers in Wrangell within five years of starting up. For now, he'll continue laying the groundwork and infrastructure to have Ravens Guitars up and running smoothly when the business is ready to fully launch.

Helgeson hails from a background of custom lumber work and currently is the director of Alaska Crossings, a wilderness therapy program for youth. He was among the speakers at the recent entrepreneur boot camp, giving the second generation of contestants an insight into his experiences since the competition.

The Path to Prosperity was created by the Nature Conservancy and Haa Aanì Community Development Fund to "build and strengthen a diverse regional economy," according to its website, p2pweb.org.

From the remaining 12 finalists, two will be chosen by P2P judges to receive upwards of $40,000 in seed funding, as well as technical and consulting services. The two winners chosen by P2P judges will be announced in January. A third winner, to be determined in February by popular choice, will receive the same rewards. Votes may be cast in February at P2P's website.


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