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Entrepreneurs Receive 3 Years of Resources


Over a dozen Molokai entrepreneurs attended the first meeting of a three-year series of business training workshops through ONABEN. Photo courtesy of ONABEN.

Molokai’s creative thinkers have a tough job when turning their hobbies into businesses. Learning the ins and outs of permitting processes, bookkeeping, and developing a customer following can be a daunting learning curve. But over the next three years, a series of small business workshops, webinars and other resources are set up to make it a little easier.

“You need to have a tough skin and it’s not always easy,” Veronica Hix, executive director of the Oregon Native American Business and Entrepreneurial Network Inc. (ONABEN), told Molokai entrepreneurs last Friday. More than a dozen seasoned and immerging business owners attended event, which marked the kick-off a series of Native Hawaiian entrepreneurial workshops and training.

ONABEN is an Oregon-based, nonprofit organization whose mission is to increase entrepreneurial opportunities for indigenous communities nationwide, said Hix.

Working with Molokai’s Kuha`o Business Center, ONABEN staff first visited the island last year, conducting a two-day workshop. After receiving a positive response and a $1 million grant awarded by the Administration for Native Americans (ANA) Sustainable Employment of Economic Development Strategies (SEEDS), ONABEN representatives are providing further training in North Carolina, North Dakota and Molokai.

“It’s nice to be here in Molokai again,” Hix said. “We love your island…and we just really wanted to come back and be able to work with the citizens here.”

This time, they are committing to build a three-year Native Hawaiian entrepreneurial development program open to new and experienced small business owners “for Molokai, that is Molokai-made, with Molokai’s needs in mind,” said Jennifer Hawkins, Kuha`o Business Center’s small business specialist. According to Hix, they will visit Molokai three times a year to host in-person workshops, with supplemental webinars and online resources between visits.

“We’ll work together [with the community] to build a technical assistance program that will move the needle here in regard to economic development and commerce over the next three years,” said Hix.

Friday’s meeting involved an informal introduction and talk story between ONABEN staff and Molokai entrepreneurs to see what challenges new business owners experience, which ONABEN will use to develop a framework for future training.

“We can’t know your community as well as you do or the resources that already exist here,” said Hix. “So what would you like us to do? What can we help you with?”

Some suggestions included innovative marketing strategies and how to utilize social media to promote products and services.

“The technology is changing so rapidly that all these different apps are coming up and there are new opportunities for marketing almost daily,” said Gene Pike, a local chef. “…So I think keeping people abreast of what’s available would be really helpful.”

Others recommended finding a price point for their products would be an important topic to cover.

“A lot of people on the island that come to my class have a price already but they don’t know if they’re making money or not,” said Kuulei Arce, who teaches business classes at the Maui Economic Opportunity’s Business Development Center on Molokai. “They don’t know if they’re breaking even.”

However, all attendees agreed that recordkeeping, learning about insurance options, checking their certificate of vendor compliance, and filing taxes would be beneficial discussion topics as well.

“I need help with taxes in general!” chuckled Ed Mendija, owner of Medija’s Repair, which focuses on technology repair.

Expanding networks within the community was also a widely suggested topic. Hawkins said that while community members already know each other on a social level, they should also connect on a business level.

“Once we walk out of here, I’m not going to be able to communicate with anybody,” said Pike. “So after this workshop, maybe a list of contacts and what they do would help so we can communicate with people who are at least in this room.”

Hix recorded all comments of the evening and passed around assessments that would better reflect the needs for future discussions. Hix said she plans to return to the island in April and is excited to work with the community.

“Although we come on the island only three times a year…I think this could really be a great journey for us as a group,” she said.

For more information or to receive the Kuha`o Business Center’s calendar of events, email Jennifer Hawkins at Jennifer.hawkins@co.maui.hi.us.


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