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Local startups could use more experienced executive leadership

Wikipedia Commons
Wikipedia Commons

Hawaiʻi's startup scene is continuing to expand, but one of its growing pains is a scarcity of experienced executives ready for the C-suite.

Much progress has been made in Hawaiʻi’s technology, innovation and startup environment, as PBN heard from five tech leaders in an industry roundtable.

For example, Blue Startups has invested in more than 100 companies, half of them based in Hawaiʻi. Mana Up, an accelerator for startups selling tangible products rather than software, has helped 63 local companies to grow their business, including brands like Manoa Chocolate and Coco Moon.

Last fall, Mana Up launched its first venture capital fund, aiming to invest $6.3 million in Hawaiʻi-based companies.

One challenge our panelists have observed is that when local startups are successful and reach a certain size, they’re finding a shortage of executive leadership here.

For example, Taylor Saenz, founder of Parklinq, has spent the past six years of his life, day and night, involved in all aspects of the business. His product is an app that drivers use to find, and pay for, parking spaces.

The app really took off through the pandemic as people flocked to remote interactions. Now he has a staff of 13 and what he needs most, he says, is an experienced chief financial officer and a chief operations officer to help take the company to the next level.

Meli James, co-founder of Mana Up, says Hawaiʻi's startup ecosystem has reached the point where companies need C-suite talent but hasn’t quite reached the point where it has produced that talent pool.

A. Kam Napier is the editor-in-chief of Pacific Business News.
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