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Business // Entrepreneurs
Christina O’Connor

Local Businesses Share Work With Legislators

Local entrepreneurs and small businesses at last year’s Entrepreneurs’ Day. Photo courtesy Dennis Ling, DBEDT

Local entrepreneurs and small businesses at last year’s Entrepreneurs’ Day. Photo courtesy Dennis Ling, DBEDT

From food to fashion and information technology to clean energy, Hawaii-grown businesses represent a vibrant, diverse entrepreneurial community. But there is much room for growth.

These innovators will have a chance to help grow their own ventures, as well as the entrepreneurial sector at large, at the second annual Entrepreneurs’ Day March 5 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the state Capitol. Presented by the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT), the event will provide local business people with an opportunity to share their work with state lawmakers and network with one another.

“The idea was that the legislators may not be aware of the scope and the breadth of small business entrepreneurial activity,” explains Karl Fooks, president of Hawaii Strategic Development Corporation (HSDC), a state agency affiliated with DBEDT. “Rather than try to bring the Legislature out into the community, we brought the community into the Legislature.”

The event aims to highlight the importance of entrepreneurship in Hawaii’s economy. According to Fooks, that importance can be found in the creation of new avenues of economic growth – and the potential for these companies to expand their products and services to the national or even international stage.

“What we see often with these high-growth businesses, because they are exporting outside of the state and they have customers outside of the state, if they can’t find the resources here, they’re just relocating to another state,” Fooks explains. “We are looking to find businesses that can develop important business activities here in the state that generate high wage opportunities for our citizens.

“And, we think, by doing that, we can counteract the brain drain and entice our young people to stay in Hawaii, or to come back to Hawaii and take jobs here.”

Entrepreneurs’ Day is part of a larger effort, the HI Growth Initiative, to address these issues and bolster innovative local businesses. Run by HSDC, the initiative aims to support local entrepreneurs through connecting businesses with investors, fostering innovation and garnering investment capital for local companies.

“Our interest is to create new segments of economic growth for the state,” Fooks says. “We want to create opportunities for these smaller businesses to grow into companies that are exporting their products and services outside of Hawaii.”

While the goal of Entrepreneurs’ Day may not be explicitly to push legislation, policy impact seems to be an implicit idea for HSDC and participating businesses. During last year’s legislative session, HI Growth Initiative secured $6 million in funding. HSDC is again requesting $6 million from lawmakers this year.

“We understand that to create an opportunity for a business to establish and grow in Hawaii, it needs a supportive environment,” Fooks says.

Entrepreneurs’ Day also functions as a networking platform for business owners, providing a space for them to discuss shared challenges and swap insider tips.

For regenerative medicine (or cell therapy) company Tissue Genesis, Entrepreneurs’ Day is a chance to expose their work to the community.

“The life sciences industries and other technological industries are not the prominent industries in the Islands,” Tissue Genesis co-founder, president and CEO Anton Krucky says. “We need to let people know what we are doing. I think it is an important event to showcase that there are other things that can help our economy diversify.”

Hawaii Association of Media Arts is excited to demonstrate the work of digital media professionals, including 3-D animators, independent film producers and app developers.

“We are hoping that we can just raise awareness in the community and also to government officials that there is a digital media industry here in Hawaii,” says Todd Robertson, president and CEO of Hyperspective Studios, an HAMA member company. “The industry is growing and beginning to thrive, and we need as much community support as we can get in order to do that.”

Robertson was pleased to learn that the Legislature has funded programs that will help businesses get off the ground – and he hopes that this type of support continues and expands.

So far, businesses participating in Entrepreneurs’ Day run the gamut of various industries. As of press time, a few spots remain open. For more information or to reserve a table for your business, visit invest.hawaii.gov/hi-growth-entrepreneurs-day. The deadline to register is Feb. 18.

coconnor@midweek.com

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