Alaska’s Emerging Leaders Among Top SBA Cohort Nationwide
Linnea Cummings, co-owner of Anchorage meal prep service Alaska Dinner Factory, recently graduated from SBA’s T.H.R.I.V.E. executive training.
Train. Hope. Rise. Innovate. Venture. Elevate. A cohort of eleven Alaskan business owners did all six of those things as they completed the T.H.R.I.V.E. Emerging Leaders Reimagined series organized by the US Small Business Administration (SBA).
Network and Engage
T.H.R.I.V.E. Emerging Leaders Reimagined is an executive-level training course for small businesses to accelerate their growth.
“The SBA’s T.H.R.I.V.E. program provides our graduates with valuable resources and training which empowers them to drive their businesses to the next level,” says SBA Alaska District Director Steve Brown. “This opportunity to network and engage with high level executives who share their knowledge and expertise delivers an invaluable experience to navigate the ever-evolving marketplace.”
Upon graduation in December, the Alaska cohort’s performance was ranked among the top five in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Number three, to be precise.
Among the cohort were Chris Allen of Golden Agers Homecare; Ralph Carney of Alaska Chip Company; Linnea Cummings of Alaska Dinner Factory; Kirsten Dixon of Within the Wild Adventure Co.; LeAnn Duncan of Denali Bookkeeping; Sara Faulkner of Land’s End; Christine Hopkins of ASCI Federal Services; Mauri Parks of Sound Contracting; Nathan Wardwell of JOA Surveys; Ronni Wilcock of Two Bears Environmental Consulting; and Tonia Winkler of Global Services, Inc.
“It helped me to think from a more corporate perspective and prepare for long term growth,” says Carney, who started manufacturing potato chips in Anchorage with his wife Darcy in 2003. “Working with other local business owners in Alaska gave me insight on the issues other small businesses face and the strategies they use to solve them.”
The program gives business owners “an opportunity to work on their business rather than in their business,” says Cummings, who co-founded her Anchorage delivery club restaurant with her husband in 2006.
Hopkins, who has co-owned the supply chain contractor ASCI since 2020, calls T.H.R.I.V.E. “a very well-rounded program.” “It’s time consuming and intense but was definitely worth the time that I spent to complete it. My cohort had some amazing business leaders in it. All of us had been operating for more than five years, so it gave the program some additional depth,” Hopkins says.
SBA also recently certified ASCI as a Woman-Owned Small Business (WOSB) after more than a year of effort by Hopkins. “This certification now allows us to compete for WOSB set asides in the federal contracting space, which helps to narrow the competitive pool,” she explains. “This certification won’t land us contracts; we still have to be able to perform the work and differentiate ourselves. I like to think of this kind of like a draw tag. We now have the right to hunt in those areas that we couldn’t before.”
Hopkins joined ASCI in 2013 and within six years was appointed president, adding the title CEO six months later. ASCI became a majority woman-owned business in 2021, when Hopkins upped her stake to 51 percent.
Together as a Team
With Christine Hopkins as majority owner, Advanced Supply Chain International spun off a subsidiary, ASCI Federal Services, which was recently awarded its first $12.4 million contract for logistics in Alaska.
SBA created the Emerging Leaders initiative in 2008, and it was rebranded last year as T.H.R.I.V.E. Emerging Leaders Reimagined. Revamped features included a hybrid in-person/online learning module, a professional coach per cohort, peer mentoring, and experienced subject matter experts all with the purpose of creating a three-year strategic growth business plan as a final project.
“While the T.H.R.I.V.E. program didn’t change or add ideas to my three-year growth plan,” Carney says, “it did help me organize my thoughts and ideas for the three-year growth strategy into a more achievable plan.”
Dixon, who runs remote lodges west of Skwentna, compares the course to a quick spin through an MBA program. “We worked on our own individual companies as we learned best practices as leaders and managers. This puts the learning into a practical, real-life context. We shared problems we were working on, and the team gave valuable advice to each other,” Dixon says.
SBA says the revamp removes a one-size-fits-all model in exchange for engagement, problem-solving, and peer-to-peer interaction within the cohorts.
“The peer discussions and learning from other business owners were by far the most valuable parts of the program for me personally,” Hopkins says. “I would recommend this program for any small business leaders/owners, particularly those who have an annual revenue of less than $20 million a year.” She adds that it’s also useful as part of succession planning, to prepare designated successors.
Cummings also recommends the program but reminds participants to be prepared for six months of course work.
The course culminated with a virtual graduation ceremony on December 20, 2022. The cohort’s coach, consultant Jevonnah Ellison of Alabama, praised their commitment. “Not a single one of us has done this alone, we’ve all gone through it together as a team, a unit, and even though we are from every part of the country, we finish strong together,” Ellison said.
Since its inception, SBA’s Emerging Leaders has trained more than 5,000 small business owners, generating nearly $1 billion in new financing and securing more than $4 billion in government contracts.