Casey Kelly/KTOO
The winners of the 2013 Path to Prosperity business contest (left to right) Steve Helgeson, Kevin Skeek, Sue Tyler, and Wes Tyler.

Raven Guitars, Icy Straight Lumber Named Winners of Path to Propserity Competition


A maker of bespoke acoustic guitars—designed with Southeast Alaska timber like Sitka spruce, yellow and red cedar—and a saw mill company trying to expand into cabin construction and home building supplies are the winners of the inaugural Path to Prosperity business competition for Southeast Alaska entrepreneurs.

The winners—Kevin Skeek and Steve Helgeson's Raven Guitars, and husband-and-wife team Wes and Sue Tyler's Icy Straits Lumber and Milling in Hoonah, Alaska—will receive up to $40,000 in seed money for consulting and technical assistant services to develop their businesses ideas.

The contest was sponsored by Haa Aanì Community Development Fund, Inc., a subsidiary of Sealaska Corp., and the the Nature Conservancy.

The goal of Path to Prosperity (P2P) is to launch growing companies that will increase local employment, while making a positive social and economic impact on their communities, and promote sustainable use of local resources. Like Raven Guitars, the Tylers prefer to use local wood, from the Tongass National Forest, Wes told

The Tylers have rebranded the cabin-construction and home-supplies portion of their business as Alaska Legacy Homes and Products. “Through that we’re going be able to open up our markets, develop log cabins or stick frame cabins with log features and things like that,” Wes Tyler told “We’ll also be able to have packages of the different kinds of things that go into homes, like a siding package, or a paneling package, or trim package.”

Kevin Skeek and Steve Helgeson actually found eachother through the P2P contest. They were both semifinalists in the competition. After bonding at a small business boot camp the finalists attended in October, the pair decided to join forces, choosing Raven Guitars as their business name.

“P2P is the perfect gateway for me to finally accomplish my dream of having a career I would fall in love with,” said Kevin Skeek. “During the process I was able to find Steve who had the same dream as I did. With winning the competition, Steve and I will be able to get the proper training needed for us to make sure we provide jobs to our rural communities and top quality guitars for our customers.”

The spirited entrepreneurs were selected from an original pool of 59 businesses that in September 2013 was whittled down to 12 semi-finalists, 11 of whom submitted business proposals.

“Access to capital and gaining experience are attainable," said Haa Aaní, LLC President and CEO Russell Dick. “What's exciting to see are innovative busniess ideas. Through the 2013 P2P competition we have identified those ideas and we will see more in the coming year. Over the next year we will work closely with the two winners to implement their ideas and expand their businesses. The economic health of our rural communities depends on the success of small businesses.”

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