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A trio of entrepreneurs are launching a new initiative focused on growing Hawaii’s retail and consumer products.

Mana Up, a new product accelerator and e-commerce platform for Hawaii companies, is the latest project from Hawaii Venture Capital Association President Meli James, e-commerce strategist Michael Cheski and startup veteran Brittany Heyd.

Backed by sponsors Kamehameha Schools, Ulupono Initiative, American Savings Bank and Castle and Cooke/Dole Plantation, James said Mana Up will seek to invest in Hawaii companies earning $100,000 or more in annual revenue, by capitalizing on their greatest strength: the Hawaii brand.

“What is Hawaii’s ultimate regional strength? We realized that it was the brand of Hawaii,” James told Pacific Business News. “It’s globally loved, it represents a multibillion-dollar industry that is considered the products of Hawaii. Unfortunately, many of the products that actually do really well have nothing to do with Hawaii. So, we’re not even leveraging our own regional strength.”

Mana Up is setting up in a 3,500- square-foot space at the Dole Cannery Office Building, and is currently accepting applications for its first cohort until Nov. 30. Ten companies will be chosen to participate in Mana Up’s first 12-week accelerator program, which kicks off in January.

“The products we’re working with have to be leveraging the brand or culture of Hawaii in some capacity because that truly creates a differentiation and competitive advantage,” James said. “I want to clarify that it’s not Hawaiian culture and brand, but it’s Hawaii. It’s inclusive of many ethnicities and races that make Hawaii so special.”

The program is not an incubator, James said, adding a company’s products should already be in the market with at least $100,000 in existing revenue.

Company’s should also have a Hawaii-based founder and must be headquartered in the state.

“When you see so many Mainland companies that have a satellite office in Hawaii, that doesn’t create this opportunity for people to grow,” she said.

In terms of consumable products, eligible companies must have products with at least six to 12 months shelf life, due to the program’s focus on e-commerce and export.

“These wouldn’t be 200-pound products,” she added. “They would be good for export.”

The program is currently beta testing its e-commerce platform in certain markets in the U.S. and Canada. James said the platform will serve as a distribution channel for companies that graduate the program, with Mana Up becoming a third-party vendor.

“The more we can put our money where our mouth is and actually really help these products move significant product, it just helps the accelerator become much more powerful, in terms of being able to help and rolling up our sleeves,” she said.

James said its Phase II plan will consist of building a fund, but until then, Mana Up will not be taking any equity or royalties from the companies that go through the program.

Companies will simply be selected to join the Mana Up e-commerce platform.

“We have the option to have them on our platform for five years,” James said, adding the agreement will be nonexclusive, with companies able to sell on other platforms in addition to Mana Up.

“Part of what we’re building is the next 100 Hawaii CEOs with $1 million-plus annual revenue companies,” James said. “That would be a huge win for innovation, entrepreneurship and for economic development in the state.”

Anna Hrushka
Pacific Business News