Startup event sparks growth for new business

Nov 26, 2019

Devon and Brian Gonzalez of Kenai Kombucha won $4,000 in the Soldotna Chamber's Spark Soldotna event Friday to wrap up Kenai-Soldotna Startup Week.
Credit Jenny Neyman/KDLL

Five new business owners took to the mic to give their sales pitch for being awarded $4,000 in the Spark Soldotna competition Friday night.

The event was the culmination of Kenai-Soldotna Business Startup Week. It was patterned after the TV show, “Shark Tank,” with entrepreneurs being judged by a panel of business experts.

In the entrepreneur corner, was Candy FitzPatrick, who invented Rest Angles, a portable, adjustable and collapsible footrest for people with short legs.

“I was spending a lot of time in pain flying across the Pacific Ocean,” FitzPatrick said. “And over the course of those years, I tried a number of different products to try and alleviate the pain from dangling legs, to no avail. I used a cardboard box for a while. Eventually, though, I came up with my own solution. I invented Rest Angles out of necessity.”

Devon Gonzalez represented Kenai Kombucha, which she and her husband, Brian, started last year.

“The Wednesday Markets were super successful for us,” Gonzalez said. “And with all those Wednesday Markets people kept asking us, ‘What are you going to do after the summer’s over?’ And we thought, ‘Well, we’ve got to figure something out.’ So that’s when we decided to open up a taproom.”

Kevin Miller and his wife, Michelle, are the new owners of Jumpin’ Junction and wants to rebrand the business to appeal to older customers, as well as kids, with their new virtual reality game system.

“So I wanna tie onto the success that we’ve continued to have with the little kids, and they see us for bouncing and birthday parties and all of that,” Miller said. “But I want to let everybody know, hey you’ve got teens you’ve got young adults, all of you here come in and do our VR system.”

Ron Levy is putting his long career as a photographer to use in starting a photo tour business based on the Kenai Peninsula.  

“These are going to be going across the inlet to the bears and around the peninsula over to Homer and Seward,” Levy said. “All the hot spots that I’ve known about. I’ve been here a long time.”

Sherri McVey is the new owner of Dinner’s Ready and wants to rebrand the business to be more clear about what they do and expand into the breakfast and lunch markets.

“The most common, common things when people come in or they call us is, ‘It’s an unclear message. Walk in the door and I see a table and I see food. How does this work? ‘We are trying to give clarity to that. ‘Do I have to call ahead?’ No, you don’t. But we need to spread the message that you don’t. ‘It’s great, but it’s only dinner.’ So not true,” McVey said.

The sharks were Steve Horn, business professor at Kenai Peninsula College, Tyson Cox, Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member, Megan Weston, owner of Ode’s Deli, Pamela Parker, owner of Everything Bagels, and Tim Jordan, owner of Northern Technology Group. They had a chance to ask questions of the entrepreneurs and pick apart their pitches.

“With looking at rebranding and possibly a name change, what are hurdles you see with a name change and how would you tackle that?” Cox asked.

“And I think that you do have competition because people that aren’t buying this are currently buying something else right now,” Horn said. “So they’re either going to have to replace what they’re buying to buy your product, or come up with more money in their budget to buy your product.”

At the end of the night, the judges had to agree on one business to get the money.

“It as tough for us, but we tried to look at things like, what is a good idea for the community?” Horn said. “The money that the people use, where’s the biggest bang for the buck going to happen? What is a hot product? What is a hot thing? Are we getting in on a trend, something that is growing in the marketplace?”

And the winner is, Kenai Kombucha.

Gonzalez said they’ll use the money to buy more brewing equipment to better keep up with demand. According to Soldotna Chamber Executive Director Shanon Hamrick, the chamber plans to make Spark Soldotna an annual event.