Press Release:

New company launches to help Hawaiʻi-based businesses 


HONOLULU, HI – Some of the most successful “Hawaiʻi” brands, such as Maui Style Potato Chips or Hawaiian Tropics, aren’t actually from Hawaiʻi, but use the allure of Hawaiʻi to attract consumers. It’s simple demonstrative proof of the value of the Hawaiʻi brand.

With growing consumer demand for authenticity and personal narratives, the door is wide open for Hawaiʻi products, yet they have only a small share of the multi-billion dollar market for Hawaiʻi products. And while top Hawaiʻi brands generate more than $300 million annually, most struggle to scale beyond a few hundred thousand.

That’s all going to change, say Meli James, Brittany Heyd and Michael Cheski, the founders of Mana Up, a new initiative focused on growing Hawaiʻi-based retail and food products beyond the Hawaiʻi local market and into the mainland U.S. and internationally.

A growing group of investors is supporting the startup, including Kamehameha Schools as Mana Up’s title partner, joined by Ulupono Initiative, American Savings Bank, Castle & Cooke/Dole Plantation, HTDC, and INNOVATE Hawaii.

“As both an educator and investor in our community, Kamehameha Schools sees entrepreneurship and business ownership as a strong career option that needs a more viable pathway for students and young adults. Through Mana Up, we are investing in key capacity-building critical for the success and growth of Native Hawaiian-owned businesses whose success will model what’s possible for others,” said Lauren Nahme, vice president of Strategy & Innovation at Kamehameha Schools.

“Through working with and investing in local food entrepreneurs, we’ve seen the many challenges they face when growing companies here in Hawaii. Mana Up looks to tackle those challenges in innovative ways and we’re looking forward to supporting this key area of our economy,” commented Murray Clay, Managing Partner of Ulupono Initiative, a Hawaii-based impact investment firm that works to increase renewable energy, local food production and better waste and fresh water management in the islands.

Local business owners are already vying to join the program, including Brynn Foster from Voyaging Foods who noted, “Mana Up is exactly what I need. I want to live and work in Hawaiʻi and still grow my business. Mana Up’s programs will help me position my product more effectively and undoubtedly increase my sales.”

Through its 12-week accelerator starting in January 2018, Mana Up will host workshops, connect companies to a network of advisors, help craft an attractive narrative for expansion, and build distribution channels through partners and digital platforms. As revenue grows, Mana Up will help companies understand how to meet production demands. “We see ample opportunities for Hawai’i products to find success abroad and expand Hawaiʻi’s presence.  Since National Hawaiʻi Foods Week was passed through the U.S. Senate in 2016, we’ve partnered with Hawaiʻi companies to promote the event and have seen its prominence grow nationally.  We believe that partnerships and programs like those offered through Mana Up are key to developing the next wave of successful entrepreneurs from Hawaiʻi,“  said Mark Taira, CEO of King’s Hawaiian, a family-owned business founded in Hilo, Hawaiʻi with the #1 branded dinner roll in the United States.

Mana Up is also launching an e-commerce platform for its companies, which is already in beta testing in certain markets around the United States and Canada. The e-commerce platform sells products unique to Hawaiʻi, using new market development, ad targeting and digital marketing partners to reach customers around the world most likely to purchase Hawaiʻi products. Most Hawaiʻi businesses have yet to optimize their e-commerce channels, and Mana Up will help to catalyze sales in this area allowing them to expand far beyond the islands.

Mana Up is located at the historic Dole Cannery, with the support of Castle & Cooke and Dole Plantation as part of their community initiatives to support local Hawaiʻi products and businesses.

Interested applicants for either program should apply at The deadline for applying is November 30, 2017.

A September 2017 USA Today article said it well, “Hawaiʻi is a unique state, and manufacturers are now taking pride in their ‘Made in Hawaiʻi’ items, and these products can, in turn, get a higher premium.”

“At American Savings Bank, we believe innovation is key to diversifying Hawai’i’s economy,” said Rich Wacker, president and CEO of American Savings Bank. “We are excited to partner with Mana Up and further our efforts to help local small businesses grow and achieve their dreams.” “

Hawaiʻi products are our own market opportunity and by taking advantage of that authenticity, we can fuel uncapped potential,” said James. “As we do that, we can build sustainable economic livelihoods here in Hawaiʻi for the long-term.”

About Mana Up

Mana Up is a new initiative designed to build Hawaiʻi’s next 100 product companies earning $1 million or more in annual revenue. Mana Up has a 12-week accelerator program offered biannually to enable Hawaiʻi product entrepreneurs to scale their businesses. Mana Up’s title partner is Kamehameha Schools, also joined by partners Ulupono Initiative, American Savings Bank, and Castle & Cooke/Dole Plantation. For more information and to apply, please visit