Recipe for Success at the Maui Food Innovation Center

February 22, 2016, 8:11 AM HST · Updated February 23, 6:42 AM
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Participants from Cohort 1 of the Maui Accelerator Program.

Participants from Cohort 1 of the Maui Accelerator Program.

The Maui Food Innovation Center at UH-Maui College welcomed its first cohort of food business entrepreneurs and farmers to the Maui Accelerator Program last month on Monday evening, Jan. 25, 2016.

Twelve Maui-based businesses were selected for the first cohort. MAP provides support to these entrepreneurs in the form of training, community resources, and access to a certified commercial kitchen at UH-Maui College to “accelerate” the growth of their businesses.

After eight weeks of rigorous preparation, MAP’s Maui entrepreneurs will pitch their businesses to a panel of judges and community representatives.

Leading this accelerator program are Chris Speere, the Site Coordinator and Food Innovation Specialist for the MFIC, and Refugio Gonzalez, instructor in Applied Business Technology.

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“We’re excited to give these young companies a boost by helping them to address challenges in product development, market testing, and sourcing supplies, including locally grown produce,” Speere said in a press release statement.

Gonzalez who teaches the Business Model Canvas approach, a method to identify quickly a product’s market viability, told the participants, “You are passionate about your products, and now you need to be passionate about the other aspects that will help your business succeed.”

University administrators say business accelerators are getting attention this year statewide as an effective way to help develop the local economy.

Governor David Ige spoke of the value of accelerators in his State of the State speech in Honolulu in January. “For those who haven’t noticed, innovation, fueled by technology, is driving the global economy at breakneck speed. We must create an economic environment that enables Hawaii’s entrepreneurs to turn ideas into products and services so that we can compete in today’s global economy,” he said.

“We need to support accelerator and venture fund activities to give talented entrepreneurs the means to create new products and services,” he said. The governor proposes investing $30 million over the next six years from corporate tax revenues to support innovation enterprises.

The first cohort’s program kicked off with a talk by food business veteran Arnie Koss, creator of Earth’s Best organic baby foods, who shared his experience as a serial entrepreneur. The first thing he advised them to do was practice the Golden Rule of treating the people they do business with as they would like to be treated themselves. “Even if your business fails,” Koss said, “You don’t want to see that you’ve left a trail of mayhem in your rear view mirror. You can always start another business if you’ve done it right.”

“I have taken my business as far as I can with the skills sets that I have,” Mitzi Toro, and owner of Maui Cookie Lady, explained. “Having access to all the resources that the MAP offers is an entrepreneur’s dream. When Arnie Koss shared his story, I could relate to so many things he said. And I felt an instant bond with many of the others in the program.”

The Maui Accelerator Program received state and community support in the form of matching funds needed to qualify for the US Small Business Administration grant. The County of Maui Office of Economic Development will grant a total of $30,000 in awards for the top three winning businesses from each cohort. In addition, Hawaiʻi Strategic Development Corporation’s HI Growth Initiative provided $50,000 for program costs and INNOVATE Hawaiʻi will be contributing specialized equipment.

Other organizations are providing guest speakers, services, or helping with recruitment of participants, such as Maui Economic Opportunity, Inc., Maui Economic Development Board, Hawaiʻi Small Business Development Center, Lokahi Pacific, Maui Food Technology Center, and the Maui Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce.

Private food foundations and food industry businesses, such as A & B Kokua Giving and Whole Foods, are providing grants and sponsorships. The commercially certified Research Kitchen that will be the site of program activities also received $35,000 in specialized equipment from a U.S. Dept. of Labor Trade Adjustment Act Community College and Career Training grant.

MAP’s second cohort is currently accepting applications from food and farm entrepreneurs in the community. Deadline to apply is Tuesday, March 1, selected participants will be notified by March 15. Cohort 2 will start Monday, April 4, 2016. MAP information and application forms are available on the Maui Food Innovation website.

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