Participants from Cohort 1 of the Maui Accelerator Program.

Recipe for Success at the Maui Food Innovation Center

Photo Caption: Participants from Cohort 1 of the Maui Accelerator Program. 

The Maui Food Innovation Center (MFIC) at UH-Maui College welcomed its first cohort of food business entrepreneurs and farmers to the Maui Food Industry X-celerator Program (MFIX) January 2016.

Twenty-four Maui-based businesses were selected to participate in the first two cohorts.  MFIX provides support to these entrepreneurs in the form of training, community resources, and access to a certified commercial Research Kitchen at UH-Maui College to “accelerate” the growth of their businesses.

After 8-weeks of rigorous preparation, MFIC Maui entrepreneurs pitched their businesses to a panel of judges, food industry, and community representatives with six of them winning a grant of $5,000 each from the County of Maui Office of Economic Development.

Leading this accelerator program is Chris Speere, the Site Coordinator and Food Innovation Specialist for the MFIC.

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

Business accelerators are getting attention statewide as an effective way to help develop our local economy. Governor Ige spoke of the value of accelerators in his State of the State speech in Honolulu in January 2016.  

“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 Hawai‘i’s entrepreneurs to turn ideas into products and services so that we can compete in today’s global economy,” he urged.

“We need to support accelerator and venture fund activities to give talented entrepreneurs the means to create new products and services.”  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 The 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 granted a total of $30,000 in awards for the top three winning businesses from each cohort.  In addition, Hawaii Strategic Development Corporation’s HI Growth Initiative provided $50,000 for program costs and INNOVATE Hawaiʻi contributed specialized equipment.

Other organizations provided guest speakers, services, or helped 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, provided grants and sponsorships. The commercially certified Research Kitchen, that is 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.

In 2017, Maui Food Industry X-celerator will be able to continue its Program with a grant from the US Small Business Administration for the second year in a row. The Maui Food Innovation Center and MFIX will be focusing its attention on Chefs, Restaurateurs and Agribusinesses interested in developing a value-added product in the County of Maui.

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