A small group of partners, family and friends gathered at a cozy corner shop in the lobby of the Hawaii Prince Hotel on Tuesday to mark the opening of the fourth House of Mana Up retail location, including co-founder Meli James… and her mom.
“Everything here is good,” the entrepreneur’s elegant mother said, building a pile of local products to give as gifts.
A Hawaiian blessing was offered by Kahu Hailama Farden from Kamehameha Schools, who has followed the Mana Up journey and presided over several company events.
James—a 1996 Punahou Schools graduate and Silicon Valley startup veteran—launched Mana Up with co-founder Brittany Heyd in 2017. Their ambitious goal? Launch the next 100 Hawaii-based companies earning over $10 million in annual revenue through products from the islands that elevate authentic Hawaii stories.
It would certainly have been enough for Mana Up to simply continue hosting cohort after cohort, running a six-month accelerator program to build modestly successful local businesses into globally scaleable brands through training, network building and mentorship.
But in the years since its launch, the program has become an even more vital partner to its 74 alumni companies by providing powerful sales channels.
First, there’s the e-commerce component, a unified online shop offering global shipping for more than 1,400 Hawaii products from 64 Mana Up-nurtured brands.
Second, the brick-and-mortar retail stores, originally temporary pop-ups and now long-term shopping destinations.
Mana Up started with the House of Mana Up at the Royal Hawaiian Center in the heart of Waikīkī, a perfect space to cater to visitors looking to buy more than the typical cheesy, department store knick-knacks (mass produced overseas) and spend less than they would at Chanel, Gucci, and Tiffany & Co.
The flagship Waikīkī location is now in its third configuration, having gone from small to large to just right — 1,400 square feet with as many products on hand to touch, feel, and often smell and taste.
Hawaii Island was next, with a 1,000-square-foot shop at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and a smaller store at the Mauna Loa Visitor Center.
The newest location at the Prince Waikīkī—walking distance from Ala Moana Center and the Hilton Hawaiian Village—has 800 square feet in its current, first phase, with 400 products on display.
In fact, Mana Up is international, working with a global hotel chain to feature its products in several locations in Japan.
The opening of the Prince Hawaii store coincided with the launch of a special line of products honoring Hawaiian Olympian and celebrated surfer Duke Kahanamoku. Eight companies were invited to participate, developing products that exemplified their brand but also evoked the spirit of the legendary athlete.
The limited edition products—possible only through a special license not often granted—are only available in stores for now, but are being added to the online shop soon.
Proceeds from the sale of the Duke items will go to the Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation—which provides grants and scholarships to develop Hawaii’s ocean athletes—and Na Kama Kai, founded in 2008 by pro-surfer Duane DeSoto to teach kids ocean safety, conservation, and stewardship.
Mana Up is my favorite purveyor of special, truly local gifts. You can only give out so many trays of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, after all. The key to the Mana Up vision is exploring, developing, and sharing the story behind every company and product.
It’s one thing to buy a kids toy kitchen set. It’s another for that set to feature Hawaii’s favorite foods, designed by a local mom and school teacher. Giving a gift is even more meaningful when there’s a backstory.
The Mana Up accelerator is now accepting applications for its eight cohort, with applications due Feb. 24, 2023. Final selection will take place in April. If you’re a “made in Hawaii” maker or entrepreneur with at least six-figures of annual revenue, this program can help you scale and grow by leaps and bounds.
Here’s my full gallery of photos from the blessing on Tuesday.