Support a wide range of innovations
“We’ve seen over the past two years that diversifying the economy here is more important than ever,” says Chenoa Farnsworth, managing partner at Honolulu-based accelerator Blue Startups.
Blue Startups was founded in 2013 and launched its 13th cohort in August 2021, returning to in-person activities after a pandemic-driven virtual cohort in 2020.
Although the cohorts don’t have specific themes, Farnsworth notes that the eight-company cohort of 2021 includes startups in education technology, tourism and gaming. The eight are:
- CeliTech, a platform that allows companies or applications to offer an eSIM service. This means people can activate a cellular plan with their carrier without having to use a physical SIM card.
- Mount Locks, a software-as-a-service, or SaaS, platform that tracks and monetizes assets of private real estate companies, including golf carts, kayaks, maid carts, paddle boards, equipment construction, bicycles and scooters.
- Hokali, a community surf marketplace that focuses on connecting students with local coaches.
- Givespace, a business-to-business cause marketing platform that streamlines donation and fundraising campaigns for electronic transactions.
- Shaka Sports, a platform for live streaming, viewing and sharing full games and highlights directly from a phone.
- TomYo Edtech, an educational technology company that aims to serve young people in developing countries. The platform provides recommendations based on an individual’s preferred way of learning or teaching.
- Inkah, a web extension where people learn Chinese and Korean while browsing the internet and streaming their favorite shows, just by hovering over words and captions.
- Vanta Leagues, which offers development leagues for esports players. Players can create teams, train with coaches, and compete.
Farnsworth says Blue Startups owns three venture capital funds and has invested in 99 companies over the years. One of them, Volta Charging, went public in August.
Because the state has always been dependent on tourism, Farnsworth says, it’s important to “attract the best and the brightest…entrepreneurs, to work here, to build here.”
She says trends such as digital nomads and the remote workforce should be capitalized on more.
Among Blue Startups’ targets are Asian companies looking to enter the US market – this is part of the accelerator’s “East meets West” vision for Hawai’i.
Farnsworth adds, “We still believe strongly in the travel industry, even though it has its challenges. We think at the end of the day it’s going to come back, it’s going to come back stronger.
Create 10,000 climate-related jobs over the next five years
Elemental Excelerator, a global cleantech accelerator based in downtown Honolulu, launched its venture capital fund – Earthshot Ventures – last year with the goal of investing in more companies and entrepreneurs from around the world. climatic repair.
EEx founder and CEO Dawn Lippert said the fund’s name was inspired by a speech by native Hawaiian sailor Nainoa Thompson in a 2018 film.
“He talked about his friend who is an astronaut, and then talked about really seeing our island, Earth, from space and seeing how precious it is,” Lippert recalled. “This is our ‘earth strike’. This is our chance to get it right from a conservation standpoint, from a climate standpoint.
Lippert says the fund has just over $60 million and continues to grow.
EEx launched its 10th cohort in 2021, with 19 companies using technologies to address challenges such as creating net-zero carbon infrastructure and building more sustainable food systems.
Lippert says EEx is committed to Hawai’i, especially local food systems. A company in the latest cohort is Maui Nui Venison, which produces food products while controlling the population of invasive deer that damage local ecosystems.
The Covid-19 pandemic “has really exacerbated the social inequalities that we’ve seen in our society,” says Lippert. She adds that EEx is passionate about finding entrepreneurs in places that may have been overlooked or don’t have access to much venture capital funding.
“We aim to inspire 10,000 climate-related jobs in Hawaii and beyond over the next five years. Innovation is one piece of the puzzle of what’s happening here, but there are other really huge pieces that have huge economic benefits for Hawai’i, which create jobs, lower energy prices and bring additional equity to the system.
Venture capital for consumer products companies
Mana Up, a local accelerator for Hawaii-based consumer brands, launched a $6.3 million venture capital fund in September 2021.
The accelerator, co-founded by Meli James and Brittany Heyd, runs an annual six-month program to help entrepreneurs grow their business by showing them how to tackle challenges in production, financing, marketing and more.
James says the silver lining of the pandemic for the 2021 cohort was that companies were forced to learn how to boost their online marketing.
“We had about 10 million people coming here every year, and a lot of product companies were able to have a big retail presence, especially in tourist areas,” says James. “When the pandemic hit, it really made our entrepreneurs nimble, took risks, and got a bigger online presence that they didn’t have before. So that was really a game-changer for them.
Before the pandemic, traditional retail sales could account for 80% of a local business’s sales, with the rest coming from online transactions, James says. But at the height of the pandemic, those percentages tipped. While tourism is slowly returning, this ratio is moving back towards regular retail.
James says just over half of the companies in the 2020 cohort saw growth that year – many having their highest year of revenue ever.
“There have always been great companies here in Hawaii in the product space, but many of them are some of our best-kept secrets,” she says.
Mana Up’s first two investments were in Kō Hana Rum and Big Island Coffee Roasters. James says Mana Up plans to invest capital funds — ranging from $100,000 to $600,000 per company — in about 15 companies.
The latest Mana Up cohort includes a dozen Hawaii-based companies
Virtual Covid-19 Interview: Meli James, Co-Founder and President, Mana Up, and President, Hawaii Venture Capital Association
Talk History with Chenoa Farnsworth
Virtual Covid-19 Interview: Tiffany Huynh, Director of External Affairs, Elemental Excelerator
20 for the Next 20: Brittany Heyd, Mana Up
Elemental Excelerator Announces Latest Cohort