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Updated: Dec 9, 2019
Bringing together investors and entrepreneurs from Asia, Hawaii and North America, Hawaii has a vibrant and multicultural business scene (and the weather doesn’t hurt either!). In search of a better life-work balance, more and more independent contractors, entrepreneurs, and small business owners are drawn to the Hawaiian Islands.
According to the latest data from the IRS, in 2014 there were 102,544 Hawaii-based “nonemployer businesses” (a business consisting of one, self-employed person), up from 98,490 the year before. To meet the needs and demands from an ever-growing number of independent and small businesses, a robust support system of public and private organizations continous to strengthen. Let’s review a list of resources for entrepreneurs in Hawaii.
The Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii is dedicated to providing valuable tools, information, and resources to help its approximately 1,300 member organizations grow and thrive. Small business resources include mentorship opportunities with chamber executives, monthly professional development classes, business networking events, and possibilities to influence local legislation affecting businesses. There are also local chambers of commerce in Hawaii Island, Kauai, Lanai, Maui, and Molokai.
Serving the Island of Oahu, the Office of Economic Development (OED) develops public-private partnerships to develop local small businesses. The OED is a strategic partner particularly for businesses in the tourism, hospitality, agriculture, and film industries, businesses looking to strengthen relationships with state, military, and federal partners, and businesses looking to coordinate cultural, community, and special events.
For over 50 years, the East-West Center has served as a resource for better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the U.S., Asia, and the Pacific. Its body of research, roster of researchers, and schedule of events can be very valuable for entrepreneurs looking to learn more about nations in Asia and the Pacific.
Best known for helping the conditions of Native Hawaiians, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs also has financing programs designed to help all people of Native Hawaiian ancestry. These credit programs are the Mālama Loan and the Hua Kanu Business Loan.
The Small Business Association’s Hawaii District Office offers indispensable insight for small business at an any stage of their development. Free counseling is provided on a wide variety of business matters, whether you’re starting a business or expanding one. This local SBA office is an indispensable resource for those entrepreneurs seeking contracts from government and military agencies.
The State of Hawaii Business Action Center helps you register your business in Hawaii, maintain public access of key information about your business, and obtain key documentation, such as a certificate of good standing.
SCORE Hawaii provides professional counseling, education and mentoring for the business community of Hawaii. The Honolulu chapter of the national nonprofit association offers free business advice, as well as workshops (for a modest fee).
The Hawai‘i SBDC is a program of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, funded in part by the SBA. With locations in Lihue, Honolulu, Kihei, Kailua Kona and Hilo, the SBDC provides a wide variety of expert services ranging from growth strategies to business planning.
An intensive program to help you develop your programming skills, the DevLeague offers part-time (26 weeks) and a full-time (12 weeks) tracks. With some graduates landing jobs at Uber and Google and others going on to found their own businesses, this investment in learning full-stack programming really pays off.
The Oahu Online Business Meetup group is over 850-members strong and meets the second Thursday of every month. The group welcomes owners of existing offline and online businesses looking to further advance their web presence using web design, online marketing, social media, and search engine optimization.
Hawaii’s first coworking space, the BoxJelly offers several monthly memberships, as well as meeting and event space reservations for members and non-members alike. You can choose from communal work spaces, private rooms, and several amenities.
The Hawaii Foreign Trade Zone No. 9 (FTZ9) is a designated area of land in the U.S. that is considered to be outside of the U.S. customs territory. What this means is that foreign imported merchandise can be stored or exported without paying U.S. dues, providing great savings to those in the importing, exporting or manufacturing industries. The FTZ9 provides several options for warehouse and office space rental, along with help for financing.
Located across from the Ala Moana Shopping Center, Proworks offers a wide variety of coworking, phone number forwarding and live answering, mailbox and meeting room rental services. It’s a convenient location within walking distance for people attending conferences at the Hawaii Convention Center.
With locations in Orange County, Los Angeles, and San Diego, Real Office Centers may be a familiar name to entrepreneurs who live or have visited those cities. The Hawaii location is in the Chinatown neighborhood, well-known for its many nearby eateries.
The Belgium-based Regus offers flexible office arrangements in Honolulu at the 7 Waterfront Plaza building.
Located at the beginning of Waikiki, Resource Suites provides both serviced turnkey offices for full-time occupancy, and virtual office services to address business presence, mail service, and meeting room needs.
Ranked as Top 20 Accelerator in the U.S. by Techcrunch, Blue Startups recruits companies from Hawaii, Asia, and North America, giving preference those companies offering B2B solutions addressing both East and West markets. Blue Startups invests up to $100,00 in each company that successfully qualifies to its program.
With 42 companies, 587 innovators, and $342 million of follow-on funding, Energy Excelerator is an accelerator looking to fund cleantech startups that are go-to-market ready with a working prototype (investment of $75,000) or have a base of existing customers (investment of up to $1 million).
In partnership with many state government agencies, the GVS Transmedia Accelerator seeks creative entrepreneurs to launch original, future-proof, impacting franchises for wide commercial audiences. Selected companies receive $50,000 in investment funding and, upon graduation from a six-month period, have the opportunity to receive at least 25% of their follow-on funding when raising at least $200,000 in private equity.
The High Technology Development Corporation (HTDC) is interested in new or emerging registered Hawaii businesses with a technology based-product or service that can lead to the creation of a significant number of jobs in Hawaii. Upon acceptance, company owners have access to several resources and services at the Manoa Innovation Center on Oahu or the Maui Research and Technology Center on Maui. Additionally, HTDC offers a matching fund program to awardees from the Hawaii’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants.
Open to all University of Hawaii faculty, students, and alumni, the four-month XLR8UH accelerator program offers up to $175,000 in investment. Applicants are first eligible for up to $25,000 and $50,000 when presenting proof of concept and commercialization projects, respectively.
Formerly known as the Social Media Summit, the Digital Marketing Summit is Hawaii’s largest and oldest digital marketing conference. Past speakers have included Larry Sawyer, Senior UX Designer at Paypal, Mike Prasad, entrepreneur best known for doing marketing for Kogi BBQ, and Murray Newlands, investor and entrepreneur.
Sponsored by Blue Startups, the East Meets West conference gathers investors, entrepreneurs, and government officials from Hawaii, mainland U.S., Asia, and the Pacific. A highlight of this conference is the Startup Paradise Demo Day during which you’ll have a chance to hear company pitches from current members of Blue Startups, XLR8UH, GVS Accelerator, and Energy Excelerator.
Already on its 29th edition, the Small Business Awards luncheon organized by the SBA Hawaii District Office and Hawaii Business Magazine is a great opportunity to network with small business owners representing most counties and industries of Hawaii.
Unconferenz is a grassroots technology gathering in which you can interact with local venture capitalists, business leaders, entrepreneurs, software engineers, and government officials in a very laid back atmosphere.
Another event organized by Hawaii Business magazine, the Wahine Forum allows women (wahine is the Hawaiian word for woman) to meet other influential and powerful women from Hawaii. In this one-day event, you’ll have the opportunity to learn in workshops in topics ranging from negotiation to work-life integration to financial preparation.
Transmitting live on Hawaii Public Radio every Wednesday 5-6pm Hawaii Standard Time, Bytemarks Cafe provides a glimpse of the tech and science scenes in Hawaii. With over 425 episodes, this radio show is also available as a podcast or downloadable mp3 file.
Backed by Sultan Ventures (one of the backers of the XLR8UH initiative), the Startup Catalyst Podcast shares stories from entrepreneurs and investors from Hawaii and around the globe. Here you’ll find stories from cohort members from Blue Startups, Energy Excelerator, and XLR8UH.
Hawaii Business is the longest-running regional business magazine in America. In addition to its website and social media platforms, Hawaii Business publishes a magazine every month featuring articles highlighting the big issues affecting Hawaii’s economy and business community. For the past 12 years, the publication has released a comprehensive list of the Best Places to Work.
Michael Jones is a Senior Editor for Funding Circle, specializing in small business loans. He holds a degree in International Business and Economics from Boston University's Questrom School of Business. Prior to Funding Circle, Michael was the Head of Content for Bond Street, a venture-backed FinTech company specializing in small business loans. He has written extensively about small business loans, entrepreneurship, and marketing.