First and foremost,
TL;DR: Is it in any way feasible for a growing alliance to stake a claim in nullsec without being a pet?
Pretty much just that. I'm co-directing an up-and-coming alliance currently living on the edge of lowsec toward null. I'm pretty sure we're doing everything right as far as preparing to make a push into null, even if its only to set up sov on one or two systems. We recently broke 500 members with minimal alt-bloat, our industry side is top notch, we can invent and build pretty much anything besides supercaps, and we can mass 60-80-man fleets with a little bit of notice. We've got a pretty decent handle on nullsec game mechanics, we do pretty regular roams into the nearby nullsec, however I must admit that the vast majority of us have never fought for SOV or under heavy lag.
Our two barriers are manpower and supercapitals. A recent alliance census shows that we actually have 16 people that CAN fly and fit supercarriers... but so far we've only got 2. You know how difficult it is to raise the ~20b for a fitted Mom on lowsec income? Damned difficult. We also have a Leviathan pilot and an Avatar pilot, but at this rate is going to be a LONG time before we can afford either one.
So what do you say? Does it look like we're headed in the right direction, or are we completely wasting our time? Yes, I realise we're doing this the hard way, but the alliance leads (including myself) all have the same mindset about becoming pets to a larger alliance: "No fucking way."