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Hawaiʻi FoundHer supports women-owned companies with grants, mentorship and child care

Melelani Jones of Kōkua Diaper on the far left, standing with her Hawaiʻi FoundHer cohort.
Hawaiʻi FoundHer
Melelani Jones of Kōkua Diaper on the far left, standing with her Hawaiʻi FoundHer cohort.

Are you a wahine-owned business looking to take your company to the next level? Hawai’i FoundHer is a six-month business accelerator program geared toward supporting young companies owned by Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and Asian women entrepreneurs.

Participants attend weekly business development workshops and receive grants to seed business growth. They can also access $4,000 stipends for child and elder care.

Program manager Darien Siguenza says each participating company is matched with industry mentors to help develop the business.

“That's really an opportunity to speak with someone that's been there, done that, has that expertise that you need when making difficult decisions, or when you're unsure of what move to make next," Siguenza said.

Hawaiʻi FoundHer does not take equity in exchange for the grants. Applications for the upcoming cohort are still being accepted until July 15 at foundher.org.

Maui entrepreneur Melelani Jones graduated from the program’s first cohort in March and says her journey has come full circle. She first heard about the program while listening to HPR.

"I just heard somebody speaking about this Hawaiʻi FoundHer program, and the play on words, I was just kind of captured by it," she said. "I needed help. I needed to really learn how to pivot my business during the pandemic, especially being a full-time mom and business owner."

Jones owns and operates Kōkua Diaper, a cloth diaper delivery service on Maui. The idea started when she was living in New York City, where diaper service was readily available for her newborn daughter.

"All of a sudden this light bulb went off in my head. And I thought, 'Oh my gosh, I'm going to learn this business and I'm going to bring it back to Hawaiʻi,'" Jones said.

In the beginning, she said it was hard to secure bank loans — and funding in general. Women entrepreneurs receive about 2% of capital funding, she said.

"No bank wanted to give me money. They were like, 'Oh, diaper service,'" she said. "So the resources that we got from this program were absolutely invaluable. I'm so thankful for them. And on top of that, we got a $20,000 grant and we got a $4,000 child care stipend, which was huge."

Now, she says the company has helped divert some 200,000 diapers from the landfill.

"If you have a great idea and you believe in it, go for it," Jones told HPR.

This interview aired on The Conversation on July 13, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Lillian Tsang is the senior producer of The Conversation. She has been part of the talk show team since it first aired in 2011. Contact her at ltsang@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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