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Program seeks to advance and uplift minority female entrepreneurs in Hawaiʻi

Melelani Jones of Kōkua Diaper on the far left, standing with her Hawaiʻi FoundHer cohort.
Hawaiʻi FoundHer
FoundHer's first cohort of women entrepreneurs from last year. The program recently announced its second cohort.

A local business accelerator program that uplifts minority female entrepreneurs recently announced a new cohort.

FoundHer supports and helps women business owners who are Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and Asian American. It offers mentorship, grants and business development workshops, as well as stipends for family care.

Officials chose five entrepreneurs for this year’s program out of hundreds of applicants.

“We wanted to create a program that didn't just mentor and give ideas, but also gave the tools, the capital that is needed to get there," said Darien Siguenza, FoundHer’s program director. "And in doing so, supporting these women, supporting their families, and in turn, of course, that supports the communities creating jobs… We're trying to contribute to diversifying Hawaiʻi's economy in a positive way.”

FoundHer, a program of the nonprofit Purple Maiʻa Foundation, was founded in 2020 to provide more support to AAPI women business owners, many of whom face gender bias and racism, officials said.

Siguenza said their first cohort last year reported on average a 270% increase in revenue since participating in the program.

“I think something that came out of the cohort that was incredibly beautiful and powerful was the community built amongst the women," she said. "Entrepreneurship can be an isolating experience… and having this group of women that can really lean on each other with all different walks of life and areas of expertise to bounce ideas off of each other, and creating real friendships and being truly supportive of each other is an extreme measure of success to me.” 

The second cohort will begin next month and run through March. Siguenza said they also have plans to expand the program in Hawaiʻi and the continental U.S.

Siguenza said they are trying to find multiple ways to secure additional funding, including participating in a nationwide challenge that raises money for AAPI organizations.

Jayna Omaye was a culture and arts reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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