Entrepreneurs Gain Expertise & Prize Money Via Maui Food Innovation Center Program

April 7, 2016, 11:00 AM HST · Updated April 7, 11:12 AM
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(Left to right) Ann Sakamoto, Central Pacific Bank; Elyse Ditzel, Wholefoods; Dawn Anderson; B Raw Bar; Michelle Valentin, Waii Foods; Mitzi Toro, Maui Cookie Lady; and Teena Rasmussen, County of Maui economic development director.

(Left to right) Ann Sakamoto, Central Pacific Bank; Elyse Ditzel, Wholefoods; Dawn Anderson; B Raw Bar; Michelle Valentin, Waii Foods; Mitzi Toro, Maui Cookie Lady; and Teena Rasmussen, County of Maui economic development director. Photo credit: Maui Food Innovation Center

Three emerging food producers on Maui recently won $5,000 in award money through an “investor pitch” graduation competition through the Maui Accelerator Program of the Maui Food Innovation Center at the University of Hawai‘i Maui College.

Dawn Anderson won first place with B Raw Bar, her 100% natural raw energy bar, out of a field of 12 Maui-based food-and-farm businesses that completed a rigorous eight-week program culminating in a “pitch” presentation to a panel of judges and community representatives.

Anderson began experimenting in her kitchen to handcraft an energy bar with the purest ingredients based on powerful nutrition and taste. The result is a nutritious, gluten-free superfood bar that contains no dairy, soy, peanut or corn ingredients.

Handmade with in Kahului, her bars come in five flavors and can be found at over 24 locations throughout Maui and O‘ahu, including Whole Foods and Down to Earth.

Twelve participants of the inaugural Maui Accelerator Program cohort. Chris Speer, site coordinator is seen here, far left. Photo credit: Maui Food Innovation Center

Twelve participants of the inaugural Maui Accelerator Program cohort. Chris Speer, site coordinator is seen here, far left. Photo credit: Maui Food Innovation Center

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Second place went to Cultured Macadamia Hummus by Waii Foods; third place went to The Maui Cookie Lady.

These two businesses already have retail products in the local Maui market. Product development, market testing and sourcing supplies—including locally grown products—are challenges experienced first-hand by these small businesses.

Waii Foods also uses locally sourced ingredients. Waihe‘e Valley macadamia nuts are the key ingredient in its Cultured Macademia Hummus.

Co-owner Michelle Valentin is excited to share its “love in a tub” pitch and samples with everyone. She can be found doling out samples of their expanding line of flavors at the Upcountry Farmer’s Market in Kulamalu each Saturday from 7 to 10:30 a.m. Alive and Well in Kahului also carries her nutritious, gluten-dairy-egg-soy-free spreads.

In the coming months, Waii Foods looks to expand into both specialty stores and regional grocers on Maui and the Neighbor Islands.

Mitzi Toro, owner of the Maui Cookie Lady, started her journey developing her uniquely flavored cookies as a fundraiser in her home kitchen. For three years, Toro has sold her cookies throughout Hawai‘i.

MAP training and support programs have enabled her company to grow from a part-time passion to an enterprise employing several employees, enabling Toro to manage strategy and operations on a full-time basis.

Impacting the local economy further, these cookies use local ingredients, such as mango, lilikoi (passion fruit), coconut, roasted macadamia nuts, guava, raw Maui sugar, Kona coffee and Hawaiian sea salt from Moloka‘i. She also uses, unique, locally made products in her recipes, such as Sammy Hagar’s Maui Distilled Macadamia Nut Rum, Paniolo Brown Sugar Whiskey, Maui Brewing Company Coconut Porter and Lahainatown Brown Ale.

Armed with their new knowledge and training from MAP-including manufacturing practices, nutritional analysis, packaging, export regulations, business planning, industry trends and marketing, these small, locally-owned small businesses are going to the next level to compete in the global economy.

“Supporting and investing in Maui’s talented entrepreneurs is an effective way to help develop the local economy,” said Wayne Wong, director of the Maui Office of the Small Business Development Center Network. “The Food Innovation Center and this Maui Accelerator Program are exciting in providing hard-to-find expertise and resource development in the food producer sector.

“It is my pleasure to participate as a community resource partner to provide emerging entrepreneurs with the business tools and frameworks necessary to improve productivity, gain financial efficiency and increase revenue growth,” said Wong. “This crucial assistance to success in the commercial marketplace eventually creates local jobs. Congratulations to all 12 participants of the inaugural MAP cohort for all their diligence, desire to excel and for making the local economy stronger.”

Chris Speere, the site coordinator and food innovation specialist for the MFIC, and Refugio Gonzalez, UHMC instructor in applied business technology, lead MAP.

For more information on the Food Innovation Center, go online.

 

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