13th annual Innovation Summit focused on purpose and shared value

    The JEDC team at the 2023 summit (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - This year, the Innovation Summit explored how businesses and organizations can thrive by utilizing purpose-driven actions and shared value across industries.

    The Innovation Summit took place at the University of Alaska Southeast from Mar. 15 to Mar. 16.

    Brian Holst is the Executive Director for the Juneau Economic Development Council (JEDC) which organizes the event.

    Each year they have a different theme.

    Holst said this year was a success like any other.

    "It was a wonderful opportunity to bring together Alaskans to talk about building the capacity to innovate. This year, specifically, we focused on purpose. Purpose and business strategy," he said. "We had a great turnout, a diverse group of people from around Alaska. We had a wonderful location here at the University of Alaska Southeast. It was a success."

    They also incorporated carbon credits into the discussions.

    "We looked at purpose, but we also spent a couple hours talking about carbon credit utilization and storage. That is an opportunity that a couple of years ago, not a lot of Alaskans were talking about. Right now, it's a topic that there's a lot of attention on. So we wanted to make sure that we understood the opportunities," he commented. "It could be an innovation for the state of Alaska. There's clearly already experience, but it looks like there are some opportunities we're trying to get our heads around. How big is that opportunity? And where are the opportunities for Alaska companies and for Alaskans?"

    Also speaking at the summit were Sealaska President & CEO, Anthony Mallott, and Sealaska Board Chair, Joe Nelson.

    They said Alaska could be a leader in carbon sequestration. Not only that but Sealaska could.

    Nelson commented on how as Tlingit people, they have brought purpose into their actions for thousands of years. It's part of their culture to see a purpose in every living and inanimate thing.

    "It's a little sad we have to be organized into having these sorts of conversations," he said.

    What makes the Innovation Summit fun, Holst said, is they get to reinvent it a little bit each year.

    Holst gave the highlights of this year's summit.

    "We started off with a traditional dance. We had students from the Juneau Alaska Music Matters share three new songs that have been developed in the last few years, Tlingit songs. They did a welcome ceremony in and out. Again a wonderful impact on the community," Holst said. "We always celebrate the arts at the Innovation Summit. We also had the opportunity to watch some carving being done here on campus as well."

    This year's summit also included deep dive workshops, 10-minute "shorts" presentations, and networking sessions. Leaders from outside of Alaska and in Alaska talked about themes around purpose in the keynote presentations.

    On top of all that, there was a contest.

    The 2023 Alaska Airline's Pitch Contest at JEDC's annual Innovation Summit happened on the evening of Wednesday, Mar. 15 at the UAS Egan Library.

    There were 5 contestants from across Alaska and 5 expert judges.

    Each contestant got 6 minutes to pitch their company followed by 4 minutes of Q&A from the judges.

    There were two winners.

    The judge's deliberate and select one company, and attendees vote to select their favorite.

    This year, the Judge's Choice was Alannah Johnson with New Earth Fungi.

    The People's Choice was Lance McMullan with Sitkana.

    Each will receive $1500, donated in part by the Juneau Chamber of Commerce and crowdfunded, and an Alaska Airlines Roundtrip ticket.

    Both winners are based in Juneau.

    The five judges were Jake Carpenter, Terek Rutherford, Ricky Tejapaibul, and Alexander Kotlarov.

    Below: Lance McMullan with Sitkana. (Photo courtesy of JEDC)

    Sitkana is building renewable energy systems to provide lower-cost electricity to coastal communities using oceanic tidal currents. Sitkana replaces high-cost diesel generators with modular, scalable buoy systems that tie directly into existing electrical grids and are installed with local fishing vessels.

    Below: Alannah Johnson with New Earth Fungi. (Photo courtesy of JEDC)

    New Earth Fungi is a leading commercial mushroom farm in Southeast Alaska that provides grocers, restaurants, community members, and visitors with a fresh source of locally cultivated, gourmet & medicinal mushrooms, mushroom products, and nature-based educational activities. Their services are for the benefit and health of all people. This allows them to foster cooperative relationships in the ways that Fungi do so that they can create a thriving local economy and environment.

    Both winners are participants in the 2023 Alaska Angel Conference.

    Anyone interested in investing in these companies can join the conference as an investor and learn how to angel invest. No experience is necessary.

    The other participants were Frank DeCecco with DVM6, Dimitrios Alexiadis with Get By, and Aaron Murray and Travis Smith with Treadwell: Alaska's Lost Mine.

    "Great fun. There are winners, but it's really not about the winners. It's really about the great example that they show about being brave and putting forward their business ideas," Holst added.

    The Innovation Summit also hosted the Annual Innovators Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on Wednesday evening.

    Dr. Mary Beth Leigh, a professor of biology at UAF, was nominated by Dr. Diane O’Brien, interim director of the Institute of Arctic Biology.

    O’Brien writes that she nominated Leigh for her work in building public engagement and understanding of the science of climate and the environment.

    She writes: “These efforts reached a new and greatly increased level of impact with the first Arctic Fest, a community celebration featuring the arts, sciences, and indigenous cultural and knowledge systems focused on the changing environment. This festival built on over a decade of innovation led by Dr. Leigh and her partners through the In a Time of Change (IToC) program, which brought together scientists and artists as part of the Bonanza Creek Long Term Ecological Research… These efforts have resulted in multiple shows, performances, and other artistic expressions of the science of the environment and climate change, which in turn have increased public engagement with and understanding of that science. This is a highly innovative approach to diversifying the perspectives of science and improving the accessibility of science for all.”

    Below: Dr. Mary Beth Leigh (Photo courtesy of JEDC)

    Dr. LeeAnn Munk, a professor of geochemistry at the Department of Geological Sciences at UAA, agrees that Alaska’s future can only be strengthened through partnerships between the state’s universities and businesses.

    “From my perspective working in the University [of Alaska] System for twenty years, the University is a hub of science, technology, and innovation. Building strong partnerships with industry is critical,” Munk says. “There are already a lot of connections between Alaskan industry and the University, but finding new and innovative ways to expand on those partnership and connections—there’s a lot of room for that, and it’s likely to result in positive outcomes for all the people of Alaska.”

    Munk was nominated by Simon Kattenhorn, associate dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at UAA and a professor of geological sciences there.

    He writes: “Dr. Munk exemplifies research excellence in Alaska with a profound body of work that ultimately will benefit the world through its importance for alternate energy resources in the form of lithium as well as the implications of her work to critical minerals exploration.”

    Below: Dr. LeeAnn Munk (Photo courtesy of JEDC)

    Nikhil Bumb is a managing director at FSG and was a speaker on both days of the summit. He shared his thoughts with News of the North after the summit was completed.

    "I was very impressed with the summit. I think something that really stuck out to me is that there is a lot of energy and a lot of potential for purpose-driven business and Alaska," he said. "A lot of examples are organizations and companies that are already purpose-driven and solve some pretty big social and environmental problems with really cool innovative ways. So I'm excited to see where that goes and how we can bring it elsewhere."

    Bumb expanded on the ways businesses are taking innovative approaches.

    "I really appreciated some of the things that we heard in the innovation pitch competition last night, Sitkana. The tidal wave energy and how passive that technology seems like it has the potential to scale and be really useful as we think about the transition and renewable energy," he said.

    He said he would love to attend another summit in the future.

    Toward the end of the Innovation Summit, attendants were asked who they think is missing from the conversation when it comes to purpose being integrated into Alaska businesses.

    Bumb gave his perspective.

    "My little bit of pessimism is, I think in these conversations about social and environmental problems, we sometimes forget to include those who are most directly impacted by them. So, I would like to see us be better about doing that. I think it'll make us be better at also solving these through business opportunities and through purpose," Bumb stated. "But my optimism comes from the fact that this is already happening. That disruption often comes from the corners that you're sort of overlooking. While Alaska is by no means small, I think it was a theme that, it's sort of overlooked in the wider conversation. There's a lot of innovation happening. Also, that this is no longer just a moral imperative. It's a business imperative."

    Below: Bumb (left) at the summit. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    Holst gave his perspective that anyone who's not attending and has a business is missing out.

    "The theme this year is around building purpose into your strategy, into your business strategy. We need every company in Alaska to be thinking about not only how to do their business well, but also what is the impact of their business on their communities. What we've learned from the experts that we bring here is that it's a business imperative," he said. "When companies successfully incorporate purpose into the strategy, it's more appealing to their customers, it's more appealing to their employees, it's more appealing to their investors because the returns are higher. They have more acceptance in their communities because their businesses are also addressing positively their impact on the community. Who's missing? Any business that wants to be to be successful."

    Yaso Thiru said she would like for educational institutes to be a larger part of the conversation. She is a Professor of Accounting and Management at Alaska Pacific University and was a keynote speaker.

    The two most common responses shared by other attendees were that they'd like to see more youth and legislators attend the summit in the future.

    Representative Alyse Galvin did attend the Innovation Summit. To paraphrase, she said it's important to look at purpose before just looking at profit, and that it was important for her as an elected official to see how Alaska is leading the way in innovation.

    Also widely considered by attendees was focusing on youth and inspiring future generations for a future summit theme.

    "One of the greatest things we can be doing is inspiring them on future opportunities," Stephen Trimble, Founder & CEO of Arctic Solar Ventures Corporation said.

    Below: From left to right: Ky Holland, Rep. Alyse Galvin, and Brian Holst in the Egan Library. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

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