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Fifteen Alaskans Graduate from Small Business Administration’s T.H.R.I.V.E. Program

by | Feb 28, 2024 | Featured, News, Small Business

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Small business owners are called on to wear many hats—and often jump in, by will or by chance—to operations without the benefit of training in key areas such as human resources, financial planning, and marketing. Few have the time to spare for formal training in these fields.

A Chance to T.H.R.I.V.E.

The challenge is often more than small business owners can bear; the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that about one-fifth of small businesses fail within their first year. At five years, the failure rate climbs to half, and at seven years it’s 70 percent, according to BLS data gathered through March 2022.

In an effort to help small businesses succeed, the US Small Business Administration (SBA) created the T.H.R.I.V.E. Emerging Leaders Reimagined program, designed to give small business owners the tools they need to survive in a format they can access while still running their businesses.

T.H.R.I.V.E. stands for Train. Hope. Rise. Innovate. Venture. Elevate. It’s an executive-level training series designed to accelerate the growth of high-potential small businesses across the United States. Fifteen small business owners, CEOs, and CFOs graduated from the 2023 T.H.R.I.V.E. Emerging Leaders Reimagined Program—Alaska Cohort in December.

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Business Training for the Busy

The T.H.R.I.V.E. Emerging Leaders Reimagined program combines business fundamentals with innovative tools and competitive strategies needed to deliver immediate results. It offers Masters in Business Administration equivalent knowledge, amplifies leadership skills, and builds relationships with a community of business peers, advisors, and experts. It entails entrepreneurship education and training for executives of small, poised-for-growth companies, taught with a combination of online curriculum through an interactive e-learning platform, in-person CEO mastermind sessions, and live business coaching.

William Fischer, who runs two Main Event Catering restaurants, a catering business, two Alaska State Fair food booths, and two workout supplement businesses, is a 2023 T.H.R.I.V.E. graduate.

William Fischer

“I’d recommend it to any business owner because it starts from a simple setting up of any business organization legally, through marketing, advertising, sales, website design,” says Bill Fischer, CEO of Main Event Grill & Catering and Event Spaces, which includes two restaurants and a catering business. A business owner for more than twenty years, he also runs two Alaska State Fair food booths, has a real estate investment business and a short-term vacation rental business, and operates a business selling two types of pre-workout supplements. “It was much like a very condensed business training, like if you were to go get a business associate’s degree.”

“We all wear a lot of hats; being small business owners, you don’t really have the structure a large corporate business has,” Fischer adds. “We all pretty much do it all. That’s why [the training] was so valuable.”

He says his wife often deals with the finance end of his businesses, but that can lead to a disconnect. Through the T.H.R.I.V.E. program, Fischer had to draw up profit and loss statements and complete other financial tasks. It helped him see more clearly what his wife does, he says.

The top-level training happens over a span of six months. For small business owners in the thick of their work, carving out time for online classes and bi-monthly in-person meetings over six months seems like a workable timeline.

Angela Head, who runs Beluga Air with her husband, says she jumped into work at the flightseeing business without a lot of training. This program helped.

“I never had the time to do the nitty-gritty part of what entrepreneurship means; I just jumped in and started putting out fires, like many small business owners do. I never had a business management background,” she says.

For Head, who also juggles child-rearing with running the family business, constantly putting out fires and balancing family commitments was draining. The course provided some much-needed inspiration.

“I was really in a burnout period. I have three little kids; my priorities have shifted so much. My curiosity had pretty much died. This was kind of like being set on fire, for how can I grow it [the business] and make it healthier,” she says.

Steve Busby, founder and CEO of Greatland Adventures, has operated the company since 2011 but says he gained valuable insight through T.H.R.I.V.E.

Angela Head, who runs Beluga Air out of Homer with her husband (and with help from her children), is a 2023 T.H.R.I.V.E. graduate.

Angela Head

“The SBA T.H.R.I.V.E. Program was a valuable experience for me and my business. The program organized and simplified the key elements necessary for a successful business in a way that was easy to grasp. It solidified the areas that I was already doing well and made me aware of the areas that I needed to improve on. I am now running my business with a level of confidence and clarity that I did not have before the program,” says Busby.

Kellie Blue, general manager and majority owner of the Bay Club, Homer’s first health club and recreation center, says she’s wrapping up her career, now that the club is on the cusp of twenty-five years of operation. For her, the knowledge gained will help her bring the business current with modern human resources policies and relevant social media strategies. She believes the information she gained will serve her and the club well in the near term and will help with the transition to the next chapter of management.

“I thought the training was really excellent. I questioned why I did it, because it was so much effort. I know now, when I’m ready to hand over the reins of this place, I am going to have a much more up-to-date and relevant club,” Blue says.

Business owners produce a three-year strategic growth plan with benchmarks and performance targets to access the support and resources necessary to move forward. The program, which is free but has a value of roughly $15,000, is designed to give ambitious small business owners an opportunity to accelerate their growth through training led by business experts, strategize with professional coaches, and develop connections with like-minded peers.

The connection with other business owners was important to both Blue and Head.

“More than the content was really the cohort aspect of it—building relationships, but also having a sounding board. The fruit of all of it was the discussions we had,” Head says.

She noted that graduates continue to meet twice a month on video calls to continue that connection.

“It’s been really wonderful meeting these dynamic, creative, kind entrepreneurs,” Blue says. “It’s a good thing to hang out with other business people. You really benefit from hearing their joys, their sorrows, their good things, their hard things. It was like therapy for business owners.”

“We celebrate the remarkable achievements of our latest graduates from the Alaska T.H.R.I.V.E. Cohort as they stand as beacons of growth, innovation, and leadership for small businesses across our state,” says Steve Brown, Director of SBA’s Alaska District.

2023 T.H.R.I.V.E. Emerging Leaders Reimagined Program Alaska Cohort Graduates:

Kali Bennett – The Waterworks
Kellie Blue – Bay Club
Steve Busby – Greatland Adventures
Chris Cook – AMES 1, LLC
William Fischer – Main Event Grill, Catering and Event Spaces
Kirstie Gray – Gray Services, LLC
Walter Harmon – Little Caesars
Angela Head – Beluga Air
Jeoff Lanfear – Urgent Care of Soldotna, Inc.
Mary Beth Loewen – Next Step Dance Kodiak
Monika Perry – Global Services, Inc.
Jack Pomerantz  – McKinley Care, LLC
Shane Powers – The Toy Quest
Beth Richards – Malemute, Inc.
Dana Sullivan – Achievement Therapy Center

Alaska Business May 2024 cover
In This Issue

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May 2024

The track of oil and gas development in Alaska shows the footprints of bold companies and hard-working individuals who shaped the industry in the past and continue to innovate today. The May 2024 issue of Alaska Business explores that history while looking forward to new product development, the energy transition for the fishing fleet, and the ethics of AI tools in business.

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