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Surrounded by natural beauty, the secluded state of Alaska is not typically thought of as a startup haven, but the state does have a small but growing scene.
Also known as The Last Frontier, Alaska is far removed from the continental US — Anchorage, its largest city, is around 2,300 miles from the closest US metropolitan market. This isolation poses some challenges to fledgling startups, as it means they are far from potential customers, pools of technical talent, and large venture capital firms.
However, Alaska's isolation also brings its own benefits including its natural beauty, which offers residents opportunities to get outside and unwind.
In an interview with Tech.co, Katherine Jernstrom, the founder of Alaska's first coworking space, explained that Alaskans enjoy a positive work/life balance and that "we have a population that has chosen Alaska for its beauty, ruggedness and self-reliance. Those are good attributes for a startup to embody too."
Driven by self-sufficiency, many Alaskan founders have created their businesses out of necessity to fill unique holes in their local market that has been created by the state’s geographical and environmental barriers.
We took a look at five exciting startups setting themselves up for success in America’s most northern state.
FlyLocal is a flight discovery and booking system for local trips in and around Alaska’s approximately 400 public airports — major airlines only operate flights to around 5% of these airports. FlyLocal helps Alaskans, visitors, and businesses discover local airlines to get them and their cargo to the other 95% of airports, many of which can’t be found on big booking sites. Created by Tyler Flagg and Mark Lepczyk, the platform also fills a vital need for many locals as Alaskan communities rely heavily on air travel for social and economic activity as 80% are not connected to the road system.
“We would like to see validation on the B2B side, specifically showing value to our partners and business owners,” Lepczyk stated in conversation with Alaska Startups. “We also believe that there is value in adventure in that mode of travel and transportation and we would need validation on the B2C front, which we will hopefully see when more people learn about us and begin using our service.”
Remora is on a mission to simplify the package delivery process in Alaska, which can be quite complex for rural villages that are hard or expensive to reach. On its website, the company says “Like the Remora fish, we want the cargo to ‘latch-on’ to pre-existing flights around the state, providing the cargo shipper a more economical price and efficiency in flights.” The company’s app, which is yet to launch at the time of publishing, will allow Alaskans to skip the multiple phone calls typically required to coordinate a package delivery and in turn allow them to connect with shippers in just a few taps in its app.
3. Karta Solutions
Karta Solutions has created 3D planning and training tools for workers in heavy industries that allow them to plan and train digitally. In August 2021, Karta Solutions was selected by Launch Alaska as one of two local ventures to participate in the accelerator’s 2021 cohort. The company’s 3D visualization tools are well suited to help Alaskan workers familiarize themselves with facilities from afar, as traveling to remote infrastructure can be expensive, time-consuming, and even dangerous. For instance, a new employee could train on a 3D model of a cell tower to learn how to replace or maintain certain parts before heading out into the field.
4. Wind Talker Innovations
Founded in 2016, Wind Talker Innovations is creating its own self-healing ad-hoc mesh network using radio-enabled device like smartphones, computers and tablets to extend the reach of wireless carriers to rural areas. The company’s product, called Osmosis, is designed to integrate with current devices and networks and to stand alone with no infrastructure support for off-grid emergency operations, an important feature in rural areas where connections can be easily impacted by harsh weather. Over this past summer, the company worked with Verizon to conduct joint tests at the Miramar Naval Base in San Diego and successfully built a mesh network to provide broadband Wi-Fi connectivity for Afghan asylum seekers at a facility in Quantico, Virginia.
In conversation with Fierce Wireless, the company’s co-founder and CEO, Matt Perdew, said that many of Alaska’s 147 tribal villages have download speeds of 10 Mbps, if they have internet service at all, can pay up to $300 a month for it. Wind Talker’s solution would allow more carriers to extend their coverage areas in Alaska, where setting up physical infrastructure like fiber optic cables and cell towers can be expensive if not impossible. This could in turn provide rural communities with more network provider options, lower costs, higher reliability, and even higher network speeds.
5. Turnagain Heavy Lift
As we’ve touched on previously, delivering cargo in Alaska can be complicated and expensive as it requires coordination with smaller local airlines to access the overwhelming majority of towns not connected to roads. Turnagain Heavy Lift wants to solve this issue of unaffordable or unavailable year-round air freight with drones. The Anchorage-based company’s electric mutli-rotor drones can extend the reach of local logistics hubs to towns that lack accessable airstrips while also cutting down the risk of sending a human pilot through inclement weather. This past August, Turnagain Heavy Lift was selected as one of two Alaskan startups in Launch Alaska’s 2021 tech deployment track cohort.