Thursday, April 9, 2020

Hawaii, Holiday Paradise is also a Startup Paradise

Hawaii is an isolated, volcanic archipelago, globally renowned for exotic beaches and scenic sea views. It’s an ideal place for vacations, and although it’s the 8th smallest U.S. state, it’s the 13th most densely populated! But do you know what else it has to offer?
Hawaii may be a holiday paradise for the tourists, but for entrepreneurs, it is a startup paradise that competes on a worldwide level. The startup culture, although nascent and newly founded, holds immense potential for startup founders.

What do I need to know about the Hawaii Startup Scene?

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Hawaii startup culture is fully mature and operational in it’s own right. It not only has ample organizations and incubators, which nurture ideas into profitable companies, but also has numerous operational accelerators, which can offer companies the potential to boost their annual profits through their connections and resources. Founders looking for investors can make use of seed stage and series A funding to scale up their startups. Let’s delve deeper and find out who does what…

Where do I start?

There are a total of 27 options to choose from when you have an idea and are looking to nurture it into a company. Most notable organizations are as follows:

  • Founder Institute Honolulu: FI is a world renowned and proven ‘startup idea nurturing’ model which gives startup founders a proper curriculum, training videos, weekly seminars and training sessions. Founders are given an opportunity to discuss and mature their ideas by receiving critique from field experts.
  • Startup Weekend Honolulu: As the name implies, this course spans three days and includes extreme coding, marketing and pitching exercises. Startup Weekend is a globally recognized model in which Day One (Friday) consists of match making/co-founder dating, where startup founders find matches. Day two (Saturday) is set aside for prototyping, the whole day is spent developing the idea into a running prototype, and Day three (Sunday) is a battle finale, where the teams compete and a winner is announced.
  • Shidler College of Business: This business college has a wing called PACE (Pacific Asian Centre for Entrepreneurship) where ideas are nurtured.

There are also some small level organizations operating in Hawaii, including Creative Labs, Hawaii Techworks, HiFi (Hawaii Fashion Incubator), Box Jelly, Hawaii Tech Exchange and Sultan Ventures to name a few.

Where can I accelerate my idea?

There are a dozen of places where an entrepreneur can accelerate his/her startup idea, if it is already generating some revenue. These include:

  • Blue Startups: A technology accelerator which concentrates on helping scalable-technology companies, including web, software, mobile, gaming and e-commerce sectors, compete on a global scale. A member of the Global Accelerator Network which follows Techstars mentor-driven accelerator model, reaching networks in Hawaii, Asia and the Silicon Valley (
  • Energy EXCELerator: Program of Pacific International Center for High Technology Research who accelerates startups solving energy challenges of the world. (
  • Hawaiis Angels: Hawaii Angels provides a forum for members to review investment presentations and share opinions about these opportunities. (

Furthermore, entrepreneurs can go for mbloom, Skai ventures, Upside, Central Pacific Fund, Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii or Flikdate to secure seed stage funds.

I need more funding! What should I do?

Hawaii’s Startup Culture is well established; thanks to Hawaii Strategy Development Corporation’s Initiative, known as Startup Paradise, the ecosystem is blooming in all aspects. Startup founders with proven market validation of their idea can pitch for Series A funding to the following organizations:

  • Startup Capital Ventures: SCV invests in early-stage, capital efficient B2B technology companies with proof of first revenue. Startup Founders can secure investments ranging from $250,000 up to $1 million with reserves for future funding rounds. They co-invest with other leading funds at the Series Seed and Series A rounds (
  • Arsenal Venture Partners: This is a unique venture capital firm focused on the intersection of government, large corporations and emerging technology companies. They strive to build exceptional enterprises. (
  • Epic Ventures: EPIC Ventures is an investment company working with driven entrepreneurs to build successful and lasting companies. Their focus areas are IT Stack, E-commerce, consumer applications and security. They look for strong cofounders and focus on Series A financing (

Moreover, other options available are TruTag Technologies, KinetiCor, Contix and Live Action.

Show me some startups!

Here are ten selected startups, which demonstrate the diversity in the Hawaii Startup Culture.

  1. BlueSpotPark, a venue-specific, mobile platform-based, premium parking solution
  2. Findally, a visually driven product engine
  3. Freshr, creates and opens up markets that sustainable fishermen can sell into
  4. Grumble, a mobile app and social media message board “for the times in life that aren’t so great”
  5. Keyreply, an omnichannel keyboard that helps the mobile workforce respond faster and better
  6. Leet, a skill-based eSports platform where players compete against each other in their favorite video games for money
  7. NestEggGuru, offers financial advisors and consumers an innovative, intuitive way to stress test retirement savings and spending strategies
  8. Quest Organizer, a flight search engine that adds value with spontaneous destinations while lowering the total booking cost
  9. Smart Yields, a SaaS that monitors and adjusts inputs to enhance growing conditions
  10. Zefyr, a personal CRM for Gmail

What do startup founders have to say?

Despite the global interest, the founders want to keep their roots in Hawaii. “I know there’s more funding availability in California, but what’s helped us both is working through things here, taking a ‘go slow to go fast’ approach,” says Nash.

“We feel it’s a lot safer to grow an idea here when you’re new to the startup scene. There’s a warmth here in the community that you don’t find elsewhere. People are focused and dedicated, but there’s an awareness of how are actions going to impact others. You don’t see that same concern in places like Silicon Valley.”

What’s the latest buzz in the Hawaii Startup Culture?

EMW’16 is a cross-cultural event targeting investors and entrepreneurs from Asia, Hawaii and the U.S. Mainland. Speakers and participants from around the region will come to Honolulu for deal making, learning and networking, with a focus on global trends and growth in Asian markets.

For the first time, Blue Startups is partnering with Mobile Challenge Asia Pacific (MCAP), a regional competition bringing together the hottest new mobile startups and early-stage ventures from nine countries in the Asia Pacific region. Check out the

Hawaii Startup Folks

Hawaii, here I come!

By Elton Kuah is an International Speaker, Market Research Specialist And Digital Marketer. Find Elton on LinkedIn


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