Hidden Hawaii: Tropical Climate Is also a Startup Paradise

Pictured: A rainbow crossed the sky on the drive to the University of Hawaii.

With its year-round warm winds, clear blue waters, and fresh scent of plumeria in the air, Hawaii is a popular destination for tourists from around the world. In the first half of 2013, some 4.2 million travelers visited Hawaii’s six islands, and in the month of June alone, tourists infused $1.3 billion into local businesses. Hawaii is truly a tropical paradise, and tourism is indeed its top economic sector. In addition to adventuresome tourists, the state has also been attracting another group of venture seekers—innovators and entrepreneurs who see Hawaii as a great place to locate high-tech and high-growth startups.

During my recent visit with government representatives and business leaders, they shared the numerous exciting innovative initiatives designed to support Hawaii’s cutting edge startups in life science, high tech and new energy. Their vibrant public-private partnership and the “Aloha” spirit of friendship and mutual support have yielded an ecosystem of Discovery (research), Development (incubators and accelerators), and Commercialization (capital investment) to attract entrepreneurs to invest in Hawaii.

Supporting these efforts from the public sector are the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism; the High Technology Development Corporation; the Hawaii Strategic Development Corporation;  the Foreign Trade Zone; the University of Hawaii; and numerous federal agencies. Private sector collaborators include business leaders from HiBEAM—the Hawaii Business Entrepreneur Acceleration Mentors, Blue Startups, Hawaii Angels, Entrepreneurs Foundation of Hawaii  and  many  others.

According to a recent CNN Money article, Hawaii ranks among the 10 most entrepreneurial states for startups. While being in the middle of the Pacific Ocean can present some challenges, its close proximity to California and Asia provide opportunities to attract broad investments and a variety of strategic partners resulting in local and national economic growth.

For example, HiBEAM recently led a successful delegation where tech, life science and biotech companies networked with Asian investors. Hawaiian companies were introduced to strategic business and research partners, while learning how to export their products to the Asian Market. In addition, Blue Startups, Hawaii’s first venture accelerator, held its first Demo Day in July. Fifteen promising startups pitched to investors from Hawaii and Silicon Valley. Blue Startups’ mentors and experts volunteered their time and expertise to prepare the participants, and they are already at work on Demo Day 2014 to attract more national and international interests. Finally, with the growth of many new startups, the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Hawaii is nurturing early stage companies to become good corporate citizens through a culture of community service and philanthropy.

While tourism will continue to support the state’s economy, Hawaii’s ever-growing network of researchers, mentors, investors, and expanding global business opportunities will carry on as a popular destination for innovators and entrepreneurs. So the next time you’re in Hawaii, don’t be surprised if the person seated next to you might be there to seek a piece of startup paradise.

—Yvonne Lee, Region IX Advocate

Yvonne Lee is the Office of Advocacy’s regional advocate for Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, and the territories of American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Marianas. She can be reached at yvonee.lee@sba.gov.

Pictured: A rainbow crossed the sky on the drive to the University of Hawaii.