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First time exhibitor wins Best of Show at ICAST

by American Sportfishing Association 22 Jul 19:56 UTC June 19-22, 2022
Startup company backed by trauma survivor takes home “Best of Show” in an upset for the ages © American Sportfishing Association

Upstart product developer Brian McKinnon is the new king of ICAST after Pacbak, a self-designed portable cooler and vacuum sealer out-dueled more than 900 entries in the New Product Showcase and some of the biggest brands in fishing.

Three weeks ago, the 38-year-old from Anchorage, Alaska was still scrambling to find a spot on the show floor in Orlando. Ultimately, he landed with a 10x10 booth tucked away on the outer edges of the Orange County Convention Center for ICAST 2022. But he didn't need the spotlight or prime placement to capture an award that is the current culmination of an incredible journey to the top.

On October 1, 2017, McKinnon and a large crowd of fans gathered in Las Vegas to hear country music star Jason Aldean. While McKinnon survived the traumatic event, his best friend, Adrian Murfitt, did not.

The events that night altered McKinnon's life forever.

After surviving the Las Vegas massacre, McKinnon decided to return home. Rattled by the trauma of watching his best friend die in his arms, and the effects of substance abuse, McKinnon found himself homeless for a year following the shooting.

"I went to a couple of different counselors and they couldn't explain what was happening," said McKinnon. "I would be walking into Walmart and something would trigger it. I would see people bleeding through their shirts."

Without steady income or a place to live, McKinnon looked to work in the Alaskan oil fields to put a roof over his head. With counselors unable to help him process trauma, he turned to American veterans to help him understand what he was experiencing.

"I got invited to the VA hospital for post traumatic stress disorder, and those war veterans were able to explain to me what was happening and how to deal with it," McKinnon said.

For four years, McKinnon lived paycheck-to-paycheck while scrapping together funds to build today's ICAST "Best of Show" winner. Pacbak was designed to be used far afield in the Alaskan wild. It was born from McKinnon's childhood dreams and the need to refocus his life after Las Vegas.

"Me and my brother grew up on the river," said McKinnon. "We would fish all summer long, and pretty much out of necessity we would take two coolers to separate the wet and cold from the dry and warm. We would take a table and a vacuum sealer and go up river until we couldn't see footsteps. Then, we would take salmon right out of the river and throw them on the grill."

The flavors of that fish stuck with McKinnon his entire life. In travels around the country, he realized the flavor was almost impossible to capture unless it was captured immediately at the source. Thus, the concept for Pacbak was born.

Product development meant researching rotomolds, batteries, layouts and marketing ideas, all of which came together this week at ICAST. Now, Brian McKinnon's Alaskan startup will forever hold a place in the industry record books, alongside legendary brands from Shimano, Berkley, Humminbird, Garmin, Old Town and Hobie.

"This changes everything for our company," he said. "We are getting so much press now and so much interest. We have people trying to write checks and all sorts of stuff. Hands down, I couldn't have done it without ICAST."

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