When Kevin and Sharon Hamer went to visit family in Akiak, Alaska, in 2018, they hadn’t planned to come back with a business. With the launch of Akiak Technology, LLC two years later, they had both a business and a plan.
“We went to visit my wife’s Tribe, the Akiak Native Community, in remote SW Alaska,” Akiak Technology President and CEO Kevin Hamer says. “The Tribe asked us to help them start a tribally owned 8(a) company that would bring revenue back to support the community. To figure out how to do that, we went to the Mason SBDC.”
The Akiak Native Community is one of 56 federally recognized tribes in Southwest Alaska. “It is one of the most unserved places in America and the second largest area in the country without any access to broadband internet,” Kevin states.
Kevin and Sharon decided to do something about that, so they set up a meeting with Senior Business Counselors George Siragusa and Bernard Ferret at the Mason SBDC.
“Among the first goals of Akiak Technology,” Sharon explains, “is to start closing the digital divide by delivering affordable broadband to the Akiak Native Community. Broadband will be a huge lift for our tribal community,” she explains. “Access to remote jobs, telehealth, virtual classrooms and education and the digital economy all require high speed internet. Without broadband, our tribal communities are denied access to those opportunities.”
Kevin, a former federal government career IT senior executive who retired after 34 years of service, and Sharon, who retired as a senior IT manager after 32 of federal service, both have extensive experience in government contracting. “We had a high learning curve to move from the government side to the business side,” Kevin recalls. “Bernard and George helped us with all the things a business needs to focus on to get started and they continue to offer support and encouragement today. We could not hope for better advisors to start and grow our businesses”
The result was the creation of two for-profit companies, both tribally owned. “Our goal was to drive revenue back to our Tribe,” Sharon explains. “We estimate it will take three to five years for the company to grow to a sufficiently sustained level of profitability, but after that we plan to start that revenue stream to the Akiak Native Community and keep it growing year after year. With help from the Mason SBDC, Akiak Technology became the first tribally owned 8(a) company in SW Alaska in December 2020”
The services Akiak Technology offers include agile software development, infrastructure and operations services, IT management support, design thinking, cloud infrastructure, and broadband. “Our first year was also the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. We had several small contracts that brought in around $4,000 in revenue,” Kevin relates. “This year, our revenue is about $1.5 million through a combination of contracts and grants. The assistance from George, Bernard and the Mason SBDC team shaved years off of our business learning curve and allowed us to grow quickly while avoiding rookie mistakes. With their help, we’re well on our way.”
In addition to the two for-profit companies, Kevin and Sharon cofounded a nonprofit to manage 17 more tribes that wish to connect to broadband. “We didn’t know how to create a nonprofit, but George and Bernard did!” Kevin notes. “George and Bernard have been with us every step of the way.”
Kevin believes an important first step for his business was a visit to the SBDC. “The SBDC helped us target the right markets and find the customers we needed to focus on,” he concludes. “The SBDC is amazing — it’s been one of the major keys to our success.”
Impact: Increase of revenue from $4,000 in 2020 to $1.5 million halfway through 2021.