Hawai‘i Investment Ready Helps Social Entrepreneurs

Hawai‘i Investment Ready (HIR) assists social entrepreneurs in Hawai‘i by growing their impact and helping them gain access to capital. Founded in 2013 by long-time local entrepreneurs Lisa Kleissner and Neil Hannahs, HIR is the first Native-led accelerator program in Hawai‘i.

In 2019, the leadership of HIR passed to Keoni Lee, a Native Hawaiian social entrepreneur with decades of experience working at the nexus of his cultural identity and social activism. He co-founded ‘Oiwi TV, Hawai‘i’s first and only Native Hawaiian language and cultural television station and media production company, and Waiwai Collective, a place for Native Hawaiians to gather and mobilize in support of systemic change.

Since its founding, HIR has graduated more than 60 enterprises through its accelerator programs. The three accelerators currently being offered are:

  1. Food Systems Accelerator (FSA), which connects high-potential innovators working across the food system and funders from government, philanthropic institutions, and the private sector. This accelerator is bringing these groups together to target system-level challenges and opportunities faced by those operating in Hawai‘i’s food system, specifically supply chain vulnerabilities highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  2. Social Enterprise Accelerator (SEA), which helps social enterprises scale in size and impact. It provides members with access to much-needed entrepreneurial resources to achieve the next level of growth. It also includes quarterly coaching and training sessions that assist participants in developing a deeper understanding of their businesses’ operations, strategies, and impacts.
  3. Leveraging Hawai‘i Capital (LHC), which is a webinar-based program designed to educate impact investors on the opportunities and challenges Hawai‘i faces and how their dollars can be most impactful.

Two of HIR’s flagship members from its FSA program are Farm Link Hawai‘i and Piko Provisions.

Farm Link is tackling the problem of how Hawai‘i gets its food—one of the biggest challenges in the state today. According to a 2012 report by the State of Hawai‘i, about 85-90% of all food consumed in Hawai‘i is imported. It is estimated that it would take a week or less for the islands to run out of food should there be a disruption in the state’s sea or air deliveries.

Farm Link is working to remediate this issue by linking farmers across Hawai‘i and supporting them in selling their products to O‘ahu consumers through Farm Link’s online portal. O‘ahu consumers can order fresh, organic produce from local farmers online that is delivered to their homes or to a centralized drop-off location. Farm Link accepts SNAP benefits and participates in Hawai‘i’s DA BUX program, which takes 50% off locally grown fruits, vegetables, and poi to SNAP beneficiaries.

Piko Provisions makes baby food from exclusively organic, Hawai‘i-sourced produce, and prides itself on never using any additives in its products. Piko currently offers three flavors of baby food, which utilize local staples like Okinawan sweet potato, taro, and ‘ulu (breadfruit)—all super-foods packed with essential nutrients and antioxidants that help babies develop strong immune and digestive systems.

Today, Piko Provisions supports more than 300 local farmers and has purchased more than 25,000 pounds of locally grown, organic produce. This, along with its commitment to Hawai‘i and its people, ensures its business will continue to support local food production and stoke the progress of Hawai‘i-based food production.

In addition to the accelerators, HIR also launched the Hawai‘i Capital Scan Project (HCS). This project maps private, public, and philanthropic capital investment opportunities across Hawai‘i to help investors and seekers of capital better understand the current state of capital in the state. Its first scan focuses on Hawai‘i’s food system and highlights the effect the current movement of capital has on the state’s food system.

Based on its initial scan, HCS determined that the current landscape in Hawai‘i does not meet the needs of Hawai‘i’s social entrepreneurs.

To address this and to work toward igniting a “place-based island economy in which all people, families, and communities of Hawai‘i thrive,” HIR has partnered with Mission Driven Finance to launch the ‘Aina Aloha Economy Fund.

The fund will provide Hawai‘i-based social entrepreneurs with flexible, patient, and risk-tolerant debt capital from values-aligned investors. The fund will have a strong focus on providing funding to Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander-led enterprises that are using ancestral wisdom to address Hawai‘i’s food systems and other pressing resilience-based challenges.

Access for Hawai‘i’s historically underserved communities is paramount, so HIR is focused on finding investors interested in providing patient capital at affordable rates. HIR expects the fund to catalyze investees’ growth and to be an important step on the state’s path toward a more robust and resilient Hawai‘i economy.

Mali‘o Kakeihi, intern, contributed to this article.

This publication is distributed to clients and friends of Natural Investments, LLC (NI). NI is an investment adviser registered with the SEC. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to contain recommendations or solicit sales of any specific investment. Authors, representatives, or related persons of NI may own securities mentioned in here.

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