Molokai Small Business Cohort Launches Entrepreneurs
By Catherine Cluett Pactol | Editor
Molokai’s Kanoelani Davis has built her culturally-inspired fashion business, PōMahina Designs, from the ground up to a global reach. As a Native Hawaiian single mother of four girls living on a rural island, it has been a long and challenging journey. Now, she’s created a small business accelerator program that helps other entrepreneurs from Molokai to attain success and bypass some of the struggle.
“Being a small business owner, I had to learn all aspects of building a business, and the way I built Pūlauhala was so that other small businesses can bypass all that work and find their resources easier, and be accessible to capital, to funding, to knowledge, to mentorships, so that’s been super successful and I’m so proud of our small businesses that we have right now,” said Davis.
Two years ago, she co-founded Ho’akā Mana, a Native Hawaiian nonprofit based on Molokai and Oahu that strengthens Indigenous peoples across Hawaii and the continent. Under its multi-pronged approach to strengthening Indigenous identities, the Pūlauhala program helps Native entrepreneurs gain business intelligence. It’s free of charge to Molokai business owners through a collaboration with the Maui Economic Development Board and the Small Business Administration.
The program’s pilot cohort began in December, and so far, it has been extremely successful.
“It’s for Molokai small businesses and entrepreneurs whether they were starting/emerging or established businesses,” said Davis. “Currently we have about 18 small businesses that are active with Pūlauhala. We have workshops once a month around any type of business that they wanted to learn, whether it’s social media, GE taxes, whether it’s learning about events, or just building a website. A lot of times we have to figure things out on Molokai, that’s just the way it is here, we don’t have as much resources.”
Ho’akā Mana means to “strike with intention” and its board of directors, executive director, staff and contractors are made up of 100 percent Native Hawaiians spanning across the pae ‘āina into Alaska.
Davis said its mission is to inspire healthier families by connecting ‘ohana to Native Hawaiian practices focusing on emotional and mental well-being by establishing indigenous identity foundations through experience and education.
Along with Pūlauhala, the nonprofit’s other programs span from preservation of natural and cultural resources, skill-set and cultural workshops, to well-being support and strengthening ‘ohana connections.
For those participating in the Pūlauhala cohort, they say it’s been a boon to have this type of program offered specifically for Molokai businesses.
“Anyone thinking of or starting up a business, most definitely should join and network,” said Lehua Greenwell of Hulalei Designs.
“I don’t know who/what/when why you would turn this down,” said Aulani Hiro, owner of Titahood Collective. “I didn’t think I would excel to this point.”
Davis has been a vendor at the Merrie Monarch festival for seven years with PōMahina Designs. But this year brought a special opportunity through Pūlauhala. She hosted five other Molokai businesses at Merrie Monarch on Hawaii Island earlier this year, and for many of them, it was the first time they had showcased their work off of Molokai. Davis said though other Molokai entrepreneurs have regularly been vendors at the hula festival, this was the biggest showing of Molokai businesses yet.
“People were looking for the Molokai people and they wanted to support and they were just so happy to meet Molokai families and friends. One of the things I asked the small businesses, ‘what was the one thing you got asked the most?’ And they said, ‘You’re from Molokai?’ And that was the funniest thing because I think people really appreciate seeing our people out there.”
For many of the Molokai residents that participated, it was a huge learning experience.
“They didn’t know what it took to do their inventory, to prepare for being at these events, to network, to meet their fans, to meet new people to share their story and their mo’olelo,” said Davis. “So I got to witness a lot of that happening at Merrie Monarch and what better place to do it [than] at the biggest event in Hawaii that brings in almost 100,000 people to the Big Island to watch hula.”
Solana Adachi is owner of Pala’ela’e Collective which sells clothing geared towards mothers and keiki. She nearly sold out of the inventory she took to Merrie Monarch and her Mana Mama shirt was especially popular.
“When I went to Merrie Monarch, everyone was like, ‘I need that shirt, I need that shirt’ so it definitely put me out there as a business and just sharing my story with others and just making people aware of what my brand is about.”
Along with clothing featuring cute keiki characters such as the “little laulau,” Adachi said her brand offers affirmation apparel for mamas, reinforcing the value that women and mothers bring.
“We are worth it, we are valued, we are strong, we have purpose and we don’t need to compare ourselves to others,” she said, adding that she got the idea during the pandemic when she stayed at home with her children and questioned, “What am I doing?”
Adachi has also seen the value in the Pūlauhala and the workshops it has offered.
“The majority of our small businesses have grown 150 percent at this point and this has only been since December of last year,” said Davis.
With the first cohort still underway, Davis said she is already planning a second round for next year.
“Beyond building a business and making that business thrive, it’s really about understanding who you are, it’s really breaking through the barriers and challenges of our own mind so we can accomplish more, find more confidence in ourselves and not worry about what other people think or say but try, have experiences, fail, learn, find life lessons, build and then be able to give back,” she said.
For more information on Ho’akā Mana programs, visit hoakamana.org.