A pet grooming service and a coffee shop, a candy boutique and a mental health and recovery center, a German restaurant and a Yup’ik jewelry business, even a drumming-circle facilitator — these are just a fraction of the small, neighborhood businesses that have opened their doors with the help of Set Up Shop.

“People bring us their dreams and ideas, we help put them into action and give them tools and resources that help them on their way,” said Kirk Rose, CEO of Anchorage Community Land Trust, which administers the program.

The ACLT has supported hundreds of small business owners since its founding in 2003. Rasmuson Foundation’s $5 million investment was at the time, its largest ever, and to an organization that didn’t yet exist.

The way it normally works, those pursuing businesses of their own get training here, financing there, technical support somewhere else and so on. Set Up Shop fine-tunes and streamlines this approach.

 “We put it all in one spot with a focus on serving neighborhoods,” Rose said. “Training, technical assistance, micro-financing or lending, and real estate services — these are the four pieces we believe all entrepreneurs need to get into brick-and-mortar locations.” 

Set Up Shop focuses primarily on Mountain View, Muldoon, Fairview and Spenard neighborhoods. Of the program’s clientele:  

  • 80 percent identify as Black, Indigenous or People of Color
  • 70 percent are women
  • 70 percent are low- or extremely-low income

“The beauty of the model, and why we love it, is that we believe in concentrating opportunity in places of concentrated poverty,” Rose said. “We are working with entrepreneurs in their own communities, many of whom have been overlooked or underestimated. The talent and ambition already exist in these neighborhoods. We have talented people today who can take their communities to the next level.”

The program also offers Indigenous Peoples Set Up Shop in partnership with the Cook Inlet Tribal Council and Cook Inlet Lending Center. In addition, the partnership with Cook Inlet Lending Center includes low-cost loans for small businesses, which the Foundation has supported through a Program-Related Investment.

The Grow North Partnership, operated by ACLT and Catholic Social Services’s Refugee Assistance & Immigration Services, is a way for clients to grow and sell produce and value-added foods, such as homemade salsas, through farm stands, community fairs, and a rentable food truck. ACLT’s two-acre parcel serves as a neighborhood venue for farmers and Set Up Shop clients to participate.

The community development organization’s next major project is a commercial kitchen, an incubator for food-based businesses, which account for 60% percent of Set Up Shop’s clientele. 

“Essentially we are looking to build commercial kitchen space in the community,” Rose said. “Our entrepreneurs, their biggest primary challenge is access to permitted space. We’ve encountered this question of kitchen space over and over and over again. With this facility we are going to knock down that obstacle.”