Got a business idea? Pitch it to Soldotna’s very own Shark Tank

Delana Green and then-newborn Meadow at the Spark Soldotna Competition in 2021. Green won $4,000 to create a curriculum of virtual piano lessons for children. (Jenny Neumann/KDLL)

Far from the Shark Tank studios in California, a different kind of business competition takes place each year on the central Kenai Peninsula.

Like the TV show that gives entrepreneurs a chance to pitch their million-dollar ideas to a panel of investors, Spark Soldotna has local entrepreneurs pitch their best business ideas to a panel of local judges, or “sharks.” The winner of the annual competition, now in its third year, receives $4,000 in seed funding to bring their idea to life.

And there’s still time to introduce ideas this year. The Soldotna Chamber of Commerce has extended the application deadline to Monday, said Shannon Davis, the chamber’s executive director.

“This is one of my favorite programs that we have,” Davis said. “It just feels so good as a chamber of commerce to do something that directly impacts new business.”

The money made a big difference for Delana Green, the 2021 champion.

Green teaches music lessons from her home as Greenhouse Music, including group classes for toddlers and preschoolers.

“And now, because of the Spark scholarship, I have online, pre-recorded piano classes for kids,” she said.

Green has been teaching music since she was 19. She has wanted to offer pre-recorded lessons for a long time as a more accessible and affordable option for families. But she said that before she had the extra money, it was hard to justify missing in-person lessons to build an online curriculum.

Green entered the scholarship race last year on a whim. The week the application was due, she was expecting her third baby.

“I was filling it in between contractions because I was freaking out and had to do something,” she said.

After her baby was born, Green found out she was a finalist and was invited to pitch her idea to the sharks at the Lone Moose Lodge in Soldotna.

“And my baby was with me the whole time in her little basket on my chest,” Green said. “So it felt like one of the coolest things I’ve probably done as a mom business owner.”

The judges liked her idea. They selected her business from a final group of three — among them Soldotna rod company Alaska Rod Co. and pottery business Matia Co. Pottery.

“What it came down to for us is which of the three — at this exact moment — can really take the scholarship and take the step tomorrow to get to a new level and achieve what they’re offering,” Shark Jenny Neumann said of the competition.

Green said the $4,000 in winnings gave her the financial means and confidence to create an online piano curriculum. The money covered most of the equipment costs, including how-to books and her website.

“It made it all possible,” Green said. “The only thing that wasn’t covered was the time it took. But it’s one of those things where if I have that financial investment, it makes it a lot easier to make that investment over time because it’s not a double whammy.”

The chamber’s Davis said money for the program comes from the chamber’s annual pie auction fundraiser. She said the chamber raised $60,000 at the auction last month to fund Spark Soldotna and education scholarships, including a new technical education scholarship.

The Chamber has several entries so far for the 2022 contest. For the first time, Davis said the Sharks will also select second- and third-place winners to receive their own awards. (She said those awards have yet to be determined.)

She said applicants so far include a restaurant, a photography teacher and an aspiring trap supply store, as well as a home-fermented goods business that wants to start selling wholesale.

“I’m really excited about the diversity of what we’re already seeing,” Davis said.

When all submissions are completed, the Sharks will select a few finalists to present at the competition later this month.

Green said she’s been telling her friends to apply — especially those who are both moms and business owners.

Meadow, the baby she held at the 2021 race, is now a year old. And Green has a website full of affordable distance learning piano programs that come with video lessons and exams.

“It was pretty crazy,” Green said. “I still kind of can’t believe it because I wouldn’t have been able to grow my business the way I did without this scholarship.”

There is still time to submit proposals for Spark Soldotna 2022. Businesses must operate within 50 miles of Soldotna city limits and there is an application fee — $15 for chamber members and $30 for non-members. Log on to the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce website or call the Chamber directly at (907) 262-9814. The deadline is November 7 at 5 p.m

The competition is on November 18, the last day of Alaska Startup Week. Davis said they will start selling tickets for the event soon.

Editor’s note: Jenny Neumann is the general manager of KDLL.

Leave a Comment