Hōʻale – Making Waves with Hawaiian Culture in Business

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Photo: Tate Castillo

It’s Monday, 7:30 am, and I’m driving on the Pali toward downtown Honolulu. The entire commute a torrent of thoughts about my week flow through my head. “Should I buy malasadas or Napples for today’s meeting?” As I drive down Bishop Street, I flip through the radio stations and tuck in my aloha shirt when the intro to Hawaiʻi 78 by the legendary Israel Kamakawiwoʻole chills me like a night breeze: “Ua mau . . . ke ea o ka ʻāina . . . i ka pono . . . o Hawaiʻi.” Suddenly, my mind is quieted. I feel centered and calm – filled with poignant focus.

It’s cliche to say that “you need to know where you’re from to know where you’re going,” but that doesn’t make it any less true. As a Native Hawaiian, an entrepreneur, and someone in their mid-20s, I regularly find myself ambitiously navigating the world around me in hopes of a better future. My culture and heritage act as both an anchor and a guiding star to not only help me know how to get where I’m going, but also why I’m going in the first place. Personally, I aim to weave Native Hawaiian culture into the very DNA of every business I’m a part of or start.

My first startup, Kope Soap, upcycles coffee grounds from Honolulu Coffee Company into locally-made soaps. Mālama ʻāina is at the core of our business model to reduce waste and take better care of the environment. Our commitment to sustainability stems from my education at Kamehameha Schools where we were taught to be stewards of the land. Also, aloha kekahi i kekahi (loving one another) is ever important during the pandemic, so we cut our prices in half to make our products more affordable, encourage cleanliness, and put people before profits.

My newest venture, Polū Energy, is developing indigenously-inspired tech that generates renewable “blue” energy from mixing wai (fresh water) and kai (salt water). Such mixing in muliwai (estuaries), where rivers meet the ocean, is why loko iʻa are abundant ʻāina momona. Similarly, we will harvest clean energy from the ocean and empower carbon negative seawater desalination to provide communities with clean water and clean electricity. Estimates say that drinkable water only makes up 0.007% of Earth’s water, so it’s time for an ʻāina-minded movement before it’s too late.

Hōʻale i ka wai ua lana mālie (Stirring up still waters). While this ʻōlelo noʻeau warns not to stir up controversies, with makawalu, my modern kaona is that of a metaphor for innovative disruption influenced by Hawaiian values. In the startup scene, disruption of stale institutions is often associated with arrogance and rebuke of the old in favor of the new. Hōʻale (gentle disruption), however, respects and adapts history and tradition with innovation for the future. Thus, hōʻale is at the naʻau of Polū Energy in stirring up the renewable energy space. Imua a hōʻale e nā pua a Hawaiʻi.

Tate Leleʻiohoku Castillo is from Kāneʻohe, Oʻahu and is an alumnus of Kamehameha Schools Kapālama (’14) and the Shidler College of Business at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa (’18). He founded Kope Soap (an upcycled coffee soap startup partnered with Honolulu Coffee Company) as an undergraduate studying Finance, Entrepreneurship, and International Business. Currently finishing up his JD & MBA from the William S. Richardson School of Law and the Shidler College of Business, he’s also leading his latest venture, Polū Energy (a renewable “blue” energy startup), in the Purple Maiʻa Foundation’s Purple Prize (an indigenous innovation incubator).