Bethel small businesses receive more than $30,000 in Alaska version of “Shark Tank”

May 1, 2017

12 finalists receive grants to spur economic development in the region 

ANCHORAGE— GCI, in partnership with Bethel Community Services Foundation, announced today that 12 businesses were awarded more than $30,000 following an Alaska event modeled after the ABC television show “Shark Tank.” 

The Best in the West small business competition aims to help new or potential small-business owners in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region gain knowledge about starting and operating small businesses and potentially earn funding to develop their small business idea. Applicants must attend small business development workshops through the Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center as well as develop business plans, market analysis and a budget. Awards range from $250 to $8,000.

“Participating in this program takes dedication and it has successfully created thriving businesses in the YK Delta,” said Reyne Athanas, program director from Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center and UAF, Kuskokwim Campus. “Eighty percent of the businesses we’ve funded are still in business today.” 

GCI has sponsored the Best in the West competition since 2013. Since the program’s inception in 2009, more than $200,000 has been awarded to small businesses in Alaska.  

“It is critical to support sustainable business development in the region and GCI is proud to sponsor the Best in the West competition to spur economic growth,” said Bob Walsh, GCI’s director of rural broadband and a judge of the competition. “It was exciting to see how the applicants are using technology to grow and expand their business.” 

This year’s winners included a consignment store, meat processing plant, repair shop and those leveraging technology to sell and track goods. A panel of judges selected winners based on their initial idea, business plan, budget and presentation. 

This year’s winners are: 

  • Josh Howell, Howell Mobile Truck and Equipment Repair, $6,400
  • Zhi Hastie, Made With Love, $5,400
  • Bill Howell, Bill's Meats, $4,400
  • Michelle DeWitt, Eric Whitney, Christina Desnoyers; Salmon Cycles, $3,400
  • David Beans, Matty’s Truck Rental, $3,400
  • Gail Alstrom, Eagles Nest Lodge, $2,900
  • Marlena Dhaemers, Sandpiper Stitching, $2,500
  • Leslie Boelens, Aniak Community Market, $2,500
  • Kate McWilliams, Artic Belle Boutique, $2,425
  • Laura Karr, Bethel Bookkeeping, $1,400
  • Caroline Hessler, Caroline's Creations, $250
  • Hannah Howell, Sew Cool, $250 

About GCI

GCI is the largest communications provider in Alaska, providing data, wireless, video, voice and managed services to consumer and business customers throughout Alaska and nationwide. Headquartered in Alaska, GCI has delivered services for nearly 40 years to some of the most remote communities and in some of the most challenging conditions in North America. Learn more about GCI at

About Best in the West

Bethel Community Services Foundation is the Best in the West project fiscal sponsor and provides the back-end services for the project (receipts for donors, fund administration, etc.). Reyne Athanas at YPCC/UAF Kuskokwim Campus is the project director. Sponsors include UAF Kuskokwim Campus, Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center, Donlin Gold, Coastal Village Regional Fund, Orustsararmuit Native Council, Bethel Community Services Foundation, Bethel Native Council, Calista, First National Bank, GCI, Kuskoskwim Art Guild, ConocoPhillips, Wells Fargo, Bethel Chamber of Commerce. 

Media Contact

Heather Handyside, GCI