Startups awarded more than $60k in prizes in 1st virtual competition

University of Hawaiʻi
Krystal Lee, (808) 956-5092
Program Manager, Pacific Asian Center for Entrepreneurship
Dolly Omiya, (808) 956-5645
Director of External Relations, Shidler College of Business
Posted: May 14, 2020

Pono Potions team members, sponsors and judges
Pono Potions team members, sponsors and judges
Pono Potions team members
Pono Potions team members
Manaola Innovations, Inc. team members
Manaola Innovations, Inc. team members
What’sFresh! team members
What’sFresh! team members

Innovation and entrepreneurship play a major role in shaping society amid COVID-19. Three startup projects received a big boost thanks to the University of Hawaiʻi Venture Competition.

Hosted by the Pacific Asian Center for Entrepreneurship (PACE) in the UH Mānoa Shidler College of Business, the program was held virtually for the first time in its 20-year history. Three teams used their digital prowess to win a share of more than $60,000 in prizes. Hawaiian Electric and the HEI Charitable Foundation were the competition’s title sponsors.

Competition winners

  • First place: Pono Potions is a company that manufactures artisanal flavored syrups that are made with locally-sourced ingredients from Hawaiʻi. Team members include Peter Hessler (Travel Industry Management), Madonna Castro-Perez (law) and Christilei Hessler (UH Mānoa alumna and attorney). The award is a $10,000 Hawaiian Electric and HEI Charitable Foundation cash prize and more than $23,000 in legal, marketing, design and startup support services.

  • Second place: Manaola Innovations, Inc. is a company that designs discreet, adjustable garments that help reduce stress and anxiety. Team members are Everett Amundson (communicology) and Kendra Horvath (entrepreneurship, marketing and international business). The prize includes a $5,000 Hawaiian Electric and HEI Charitable Foundation cash prize and more than $15,000 in legal, marketing, design and startup support services.

  • Third place: What’sFresh! is an online marketplace for fresh fish and small-scale agriculture. Team members are Lauren Pierce (economics) and Spencer VanDerKamp (management information systems). The prize includes a $2,500 cash award in honor of pioneer Billy Richardson by HiBEAM and more than $8,000 in legal, marketing, design and startup support services.

“When the pandemic hit, we knew that canceling this competition was not an option. More than ever, our students will need the money and prizes to build their companies,” said PACE Executive Director Peter Rowan. “It’s our mission to educate and invest in entrepreneurial thinkers who can find innovative solutions to the problems we’ll face. These students are our future for a resilient Hawai‘i.”

“The UH Venture Competition gave me the resources and mentorship to lay the foundation for a sustainable business model,” said Pono Potions President Peter Hessler. “Being able to accomplish this with the help from PACE during a pandemic was the most challenging and fulfilling experience in my life. I will invest the prize money in professional labeling and bottling equipment as we get ready to expand into retail and online stores in the next six months.”

More than 300 viewers tuned into the live stream broadcast of the final event, which was held on May 7. The semester-long competition is made possible thanks to more than 50 business professionals who volunteered their time and energy as coaches, judges and instructors. In addition to the title sponsors, Blue Logic Labs, HiBEAM, Impact HUB Honolulu, Pineapple Tweed, Sultan Ventures and Vantage Counsel provided prizes.  

To place heavier emphasis on creating viable new ventures, PACE changed the name of this program this year, which was formerly called the UH Business Plan Competition. The three finalists successfully advanced past 26 other teams by pouring hundreds of hours into interviewing potential customers and developing real traction for their startup businesses.  

More on the UH Venture Competition

The UH Venture Competition is an intense, experiential program that provides a platform for University of Hawai‘i students and faculty who seek to learn what it takes to be an entrepreneur and start a business venture. Through the competition, participants test the feasibility of a business idea, develop a business plan and pitch to investors.

The competition is one of more than 20 programs offered by PACE in the Shidler College of Business. PACE offers mentorship, training and resources to students and faculty, and its programs are designed to encourage entrepreneurial thinking across disciplines and inspire entrepreneurs to move their ideas from conceptualization to commercialization. Visit its website to learn more.