Accelerator Helps Local Business Thrive

While presenting at various conferences about her work in creating business accelerators throughout the world, Lisa Kleissner caught wind that there was a growing entrepreneurial community in Hawaii. A graduate of Kamehameha Schools and University of Hawaii, Kleissner had been away for many years, but she was intrigued.

“I was struck that there was budding entrepreneurship in Hawaii, and thought that it absolutely could be improved through capacity building,” Kleissner says.


Image 1 of 2

Lisa Kleissner (center, in blue) with representatives from some of the Hawaii Investment Ready organizations PHOTOS COURTESY KAMEHAMEHA SCHOOLS

To help build local business, Kleissner and husband Charly partnered with Kamehameha Schools and Social Impact International through their KL Felicitas Foundation to launch the Hawaii Investment Ready (HIR) program. A peer-to-peer learning group, HIR specifically targets social enterprises that address issues including hunger, poverty, at-risk youth and sustainability.

“And being from Hawaii, it gave me the opportunity to give back to where I am from and add value with what I have learned since I have been away,” Kleissner adds. “All of that makes it really exciting.”

“We were excited by the opportunity to work with Lisa and bring her cohort model to Hawaii because we could use the leverage to increase the impact of a lot of our partners that we work with,” explains Pia Chock of Kamehameha Schools’ Land Assests Division. “We really just want to be able to expand the reach and the impact of all of the partners we are working with.”

Enterprises involved so far have included Oiwi Television Network, Street Grindz, Lunalilo Home, Paepae o He‘eia, Local Catch, Pono Pacific Land Management and its nonprofit arm Kupu Hawaii, MA‘O Farms and Kauai-based Waipa Foundation.

For each member, HIR offers strategies and raises resources — all tailored to the individual organization and what its needs are. While other accelerators may apply a one-size-fits-all model, HIR begins first by simply getting to know each business — studying its team, financial model and business acumen. From there, each is coached individually and connected with different resources that best address their particular needs.

The larger goal for all this is to create a healthy ecosystem of social entrepreneurs in the Islands — which was part of the vision the Kleissners had in 2000 when they created KL Felicitas Foundation.

“We wanted to deploy our capital so that it would create vibrant people and a vibrant planet,” Kleissner says. “Without robust social enterprise — both for and not-for-profit — we can’t begin to impact, in a scalable way, the systemic challenges of the day.

“Learning how to solve community challenges through a market-based mechanism, rather than just purely a grant approach, is more scaleable and can have a much greater impact — and I think it is much more sustainable long term,” she adds.

HIR will begin recruiting for its next cohort in January. If you’re interested, email For more information, visit