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Making Waves: Best startups from 2023

by | Jul 8, 2024 | Magazine, Small Business

Photo Credit: Patricia Morales | Alaska Business

It’s not easy to start a new business, and it’s even more difficult to make a big impression in the first year. Yet three Alaska companies—Aurora Security, Glow Events AK, and Peak Integrated Contracting—have impressed clients enough that they’ve been named the Best Startups in Alaska Business magazine’s Best of Alaska Business awards.

Aurora Security

When cousins Lance and Thomas Lacey decided to give entrepreneurship a shot after holding executive sales leadership positions for Fortune 500 companies for the past decade, they did it for a good reason—they value parenthood over professional development.

“Working for that size of corporate entity, there’s really no loyalty, which makes sense as it is a for-profit business,” Lance Lacey says. “But for me to continue to grow to the regional vice-president level, it required me to leave Alaska, and I wasn’t willing to sacrifice time with my kids for professional growth. They’re here, so I’m here.”

The Lacey cousins, with several years of experience in security, felt comfortable leaping into the field. To them, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough was in dire need of a “one-stop shop” for residential and commercial security. Established in March of 2023, Aurora Security now serves the entire state, providing a wide range of services including locksmithing, security and camera systems, and safes.

“Nationwide, there’s not really a one-stop shop where customers can get all of their security needs met in one place,” Lacey says. “We pride ourselves on providing a holistic approach to our clients.”

The company is also willing to go the extra step—which in a recent case meant jumping onto a plane headed to Homer, reprogramming a person’s car key, and returning home on the next plane.

In addition to a storefront at The Liberty Center in Wasilla, the company also has a mobile fleet, which enables it to meet customer needs more efficiently. “It’s a pretty even split” how clients choose to take advantage of their offerings, Lacey says.

“What the customer needs is at the forefront of what we do at all times,” he adds. “If we continually put them first, the rest will take care of itself.”

He and his cousin chose the name Aurora Security because they didn’t want to be pigeonholed into the locksmith role. “When you think of a locksmith, you picture some guy in a van smoking a cigarette with a dog; the whole industry in and of itself is antiquated or archaic, for lack of better term,” he says.

The Laceys’ goal has been to modernize security and to market their brand as a solution to any problem by taking a proactive approach. “I don’t want to be the company people only hear about when they’re Googling ‘locksmith’ when they get shut out of their cars,” Lacey says. “I want them to think of us for every need, from having their homes regularly rekeyed to installing a camera system that they can view remotely and on-site.”

This proactive approach is especially important with technology moving so quickly. The Laceys vet new equipment by putting it on friends’ and families’ homes to see if it can hold up to harsh Alaska conditions. “I want to make sure that we stay grounded, do the job right, and think about what the customer needs and not what we want to sell,” Lacey says.

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Although relatively small, Aurora is looking to hire additional technicians this summer. The Laceys hope to expand into Fairbanks in the next few years, with smaller offerings on the Kenai Peninsula. They’re also considering the idea of franchising once they have established at least three brick-and-mortar locations.

“I think franchising is easily doable,” Lacey says, envisioning the Aurora brand spreading nationwide. “It could be located in any metropolis and do well virtually overnight with some advertising dollars behind it.”

Photo Credit: Aurora Security

In addition to marketing support, the Laceys believe that a lot of Aurora Security’s success comes as the result of word-of-mouth advertising from satisfied clients. Lacey adds that he is also heavily involved in the community as the father of two small children, attending wrestling, football, band, and track events and “whatever else we can squeeze in to torture ourselves.” That involvement reflects well on his brand.

“Though Alaska’s landmass is huge, it’s actually a lot of very small towns, where if you’re not doing things the right way for the right reasons, you get weeded out very quickly,” he says of his company’s success. “We make sure we’re doing things the right way, which is from the heart.”

Glow Events AK

When Julie Matsumiya and her sister-in-law, Abby Medez, were both pregnant, they found joy in planning their children’s christenings and realized that they shared a love for event planning.

“We realized that we could do this full time,” says Matsumiya. Thus, she started Glow Events AK last August with her sister, Lucky Limtiaco, in partnership with Medez. “We didn’t even do any research before we started; we just loved the idea and had a passion for it, so we went all in,” she says.

The business is headquartered in Anchorage and has recently had inquiries to plan weddings in Palmer, Wasilla, and even Hawai’i.

“While we are willing to travel and branch out, we’re happy where we are right now,” says Matsumiya. “We want to perfect our craft in Anchorage first. Then if the opportunity comes to travel, we’ll take it.”

Glow Events AK specializes in planning, decorating, and stylizing a range of celebrations, from weddings and milestone anniversaries to birthdays, baby showers, and more.

Photo Credit: Nathan Matsumiya

“There is no such thing as a too-small or too-big event; we can handle celebrations of all sizes,” says Matsumiya, who adds that the company’s first job came from a very pregnant client who did not have the energy to plan a baby shower.

Glow Events AK recently planned the 50th anniversary celebration of the Narcotic Drug Treatment Center, an organization that provides medication-assisted treatment for individuals with an opioid use disorder, as well as individual counseling and group therapy. The party at the Hotel Captain Cook Quarter Deck with more than 200 people was a resounding success.

“We helped create an event that was very memorable for them,” says Matsumiya.

She adds that Glow Events AK spends time getting to know its clients so that it can customize their events. This also helps to create long-lasting relationships and, in turn, more business. Many of the company’s new clients come from word-of-mouth, and it also posts information on social media, especially Instagram.

“My business card is my personality; I take the time to get to know our clients and really listen to them,” says Matsumiya. “I think that in addition to the talent of our team and the time that we spend in planning and decorating, our personalities shine. This creates real relationships, and the clients we work with then recommend us to others.”

While Matsumiya loves all the events that she helps organize, she is especially fond of baby showers. “We recently did a Heaven Sent baby shower and it was the most beautiful set-up we’ve ever done by far,” she says. “We didn’t know the gender of the baby and just went into the event space and did what we love to do, creating the space that the client wanted.” Heaven Sent is a popular, non-trademarked theme for baby showers.

“It was special because our client really trusted our vision and the process and planning of the whole event. She was in awe when it was finished,” Matsumiya adds. “Two weeks later, she had her baby. The fact that she trusted us was very special.”

The Glow Events AK team is working to continue to improve their product and craft as they approach their second year in business. “There’s no such thing as perfection, and experience is by far the best teacher,” says Matsumiya. “As long as we make our clients happy, we’re happy, though our goal is always to get better at what we do.”

Peak Integrated Contracting

When he was 16 years old, Anthony Pickens started remodeling homes with friends and thought that he would eventually run his own business. Instead, he ended up in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers powerline program when he was 23, which led to a successful career as a lineman.

“I had a fantastic career, and I loved the work, but now I’m ready for something different,” he recalls thinking last year. “I went back to my roots. I’d been doing remodels on the side for fifteen years and ultimately decided to go for it.”

Pickens started Peak Integrated Contracting last October, mainly serving clients in the Anchorage area. “This past winter, our focus was on home remodels—kitchens, bathrooms, family rooms, multipurpose rooms,” he explains, highlighting that the company’s residential endorsement allows them to build brand new homes from the ground up. However, the weather had other plans.“We had the opportunity to tackle record-breaking snowfalls, which turned out to be a great addition to our services,” Pickens says. “With my truck equipped with a plow and a tractor with a snowblower, we were able to assist homeowners who had challenging driveways that couldn’t be plowed easily. This allowed us to expand our services and better support our community.” That extra service earned enough votes to win Best Snow Removal as well.

With summer now approaching, the company has shifted gears into warm weather projects, including home remodels and building decks and sheds. Peak Integrated also provides maintenance—the handyman portion of the business—for those who need assistance with odd jobs.

He’s picked up gigs at the Anchorage senior activities center where his wife works as a fitness manager. While Pickens was performing maintenance there, he tapped into a lot of seniors who need help at their homes. Pickens says, “I put my information out there, and it’s been really fulfilling to be able to do something that helps our seniors.”

When remodeling a home, Peak Integrated focuses on reusability by acquiring materials from Habitat for Humanity and Facebook Marketplace, along with other second-hand providers, if the client approves.

“I take cabinets in less-than-ideal condition and can make them look brand new to install in people’s homes,” Pickens says. “I try to shop locally and have established good relationships with the local hardware stores.”

While the start-up win came as a shock, not to mention ranking alongside large companies in the Best General Contractor category, Pickens credits it to the fact that he leads his company with a customer-first mentality.

“Customer service is like a second thought on most construction projects—they want to get in, do the work, and get out,” he says. “I focus a lot on the customer service side of things. I truly take pride in the work that we do.”

He adds, “I’m not finished until the customer is happy. I don’t know if that’s why we got chosen, but I’m assuming that’s what set us apart.”

Pickens’ goals include growing the company from a small shop into a full competitor in the marketplace, expanding his reach into all of Alaska, including remote villages.

“I want to take on bigger projects while still maintaining our handyman branch so that people can call when they need help,” he says. “We can take care of their homes in ways they don’t know how to.”

Photo Credit: Patricia Morales | Alaska Business

Alaska Business Magazine July 2024 cover
In This Issue
Best of Alaska Business 2024
July 2024
Welcome to the 2024 Best of Alaska Business special section! For the ninth time we invited our readers to tell us which Alaska businesses they love the most, this year in forty-four categories. Throughout the month of March, you told us who should be featured in these pages, and we're thrilled to be able to publish the results.
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