Alicia and Theron Biglow's business idea was a gift that arrived on Christmas 2015.
Theron had recently lost his job. Alicia had been considering her next step after having worked in a grocery store deli. That holiday, they were grilling for themselves outside their home when neighbors asked if they were selling plates of whatever smelled so good.
"I looked at (Alicia). She smiled. She said 'Yes!' " Theron said. "And that was (our) first barbecue sale."
A new program of Anchorage Community Land Trust wants to help the Biglows and other prospective entrepreneurs jump-start their business dreams and bolster their neighborhoods. The program, Set Up Shop, will lend some the capital to get started and the training and support to stay afloat.
Its first class of 14 students, who graduated earlier this month, includes prospective small-business owners in Mountain View, Fairview, Spenard and Russian Jack.
"We're really trying to transform those commercial corridors with business owners from those neighborhoods," said CEO Kirk Rose.
Anchorage is one of eight cities chosen to receive seed money from Neighborhood Development Center, a nonprofit based in St. Paul, Minnesota, that developed the model being adapted locally. The program is also financially supported in Anchorage by banks and foundations. In its first year, ACLT is prepared to make eight to 10 loans. Those can be up to $25,000 each but will likely average about half that, Rose said.
Set Up Shop targets individuals who might have good ideas and solid plans but would run into roadblocks that prevent them from borrowing money from traditional lenders. Reasons for that could include lack of credit history, low income and lack of collateral. Terms will be negotiated with each borrower and a committee of seven lending professionals who are volunteering to help.
But they aren't grants, Rose emphasized.
"They're definitely loans. We're getting repaid," Rose said. "But the opportunity is that a lot of these folks might not be able to get money anywhere else."
Rose said providing access to money is just part of the plan. Borrowers must first complete a 12-week class that gives them business training. Here are some of the class participants and their business ideas.
Alicia and Theron Biglow, 45 and 46
When Alicia and Theron Biglow decided to leave the Los Angeles area in 2013, they were struggling financially, working to help their daughter finish high school and coping with Theron's poor health. When they arrived in Anchorage, they had just $40 and a backpack full of belongings.
"We didn't have anything," Alicia said.
Now, standing in a mostly vacant lot in Mountain View, they are dreaming of expanding their business, Cali's Smokey BBQ and Soulfood, into a 3-day-a-week food cart operation that offers pork ribs, chicken and links straight from a custom-made Moss double-barrel grill.
"These ribs are close to my heart," Theron said. "We don't believe in sauce to the side. We need ours baptized in sauce."
Not every decision they've made so far has had growth and profit in mind, the Biglows say. The couple also enjoys doing outreach work, trying to steer people who are struggling toward resources that can help them. Alicia calls it "provoking love." That has sometimes involved giving away food, they said.
"We believe that as you bless those that are less fortunate, God will replenish that what you did give away," Theron said.
Tasha Webster, 30
Tasha Webster's idea is messy, and that's the point.
She wants to offer entry level drop-in yoga classes with a twist of creativity: students paint watercolors while they practice. She's considering calling her business Messy Yoga Club.
"You would essentially create art in yoga poses," Webster said.
Webster, who is also working on a master's degree in business administration from Alaska Pacific University, hopes the idea will reach minority communities in particular, something she thinks yoga in general hasn't been very successful at.
"A lot of individuals feel intimidated by the traditional yogis and traditional yoga," Webster said. "But they're curious and they really want to create."
Laura Revels, 58
About 10 years ago, while Laura Revels was getting treatment for breast cancer, she began beading with a small group of cancer survivors.
"I noticed here in Anchorage that we didn't get together very much like we did when I lived in Juneau," Revels said. "We used to get together and bead and do our arts together, and talk and just solve all the world's problems at the same time."
The cancer survivor group soon became a wider collection of bead artists who represented several Alaska Native traditions. Revels' work reflects her Tlingit heritage. The group would gather wherever they could find meeting space to share knowledge and enjoy one another's company. Now with 115 members and growing, they collaborate primarily as a Facebook group but continue to gather in smaller groups each month.
"It became really apparent to me that we needed to start a business, because people were asking, 'Where do you sell things?' " Revels said.
Revels hopes that with help from her daughter, Anaaski Kawoot Indigenous Bead Artistry will let her fellow artists sell their work online and at events. So far she has 10 artists signed up to sell. She also hopes to facilitate beading classes.
"This way we are actually helping each other, as a community, grow and go forward," she said.
Chantel Manley, 29
Chantel Manley thinks Mountain View needs a coffee shop.
"I love coffee. If I could like sleep and breathe and eat coffee all the time, I totally would," she said.
Manley said she has pretty much worked for every big-name coffee business in town, either as a barista or store manager, since she graduated from Bartlett High School.
"I want to bring something to the community where people can go and hang out and express their ideas in life," she said.
She envisions a place with live music, where customers gather to play games. She plans to call it Hattigan CoffeeHouse, the name inspired by a character in Alice in Wonderland.
"It'd be really great to spread the love over here too," she said. "I feel like I've got a pretty solid business plan, and the drive and the passion to get it done."
LaTasha McKnight, 42
When LaTasha McKnight creates custom desserts and cake pops, she thinks about her grandmother, Helen Irvin, who baked for her large family every Sunday when she was growing up in Perry, Florida.
"When I'm in the kitchen, I turn my music on and I think about the times," McKnight said. "Or how many times I got caught trying to take a piece of cake off the counter."
McKnight, who has a baking business with her sister, Erica Lake, 34, bakes for the same reasons their grandmother did: It makes people happy.
"They're enjoying the food. They're enjoying each other while they eat it," she said.
A loan from the Set Up Shop program will allow their business, Mac's Snacks and Treats, to use commercial-grade kitchen equipment in her home. The program's classes have provided a foundation of knowledge from which to grow even more.
"When we move into a storefront, we want to do it correctly," she said.
But even as she carries on in the spirit of her grandmother, she's closely guarding one other thing she passed along.
"We have a secret recipe for sweet potato pound cake. It's our family recipe," McKnight said. "We don't give it to anybody."