The Pākōlea Program: Encouraging a Circular Economy

Photo: Pākōlea Program cohort
The very first Pākōlea Program cohort included 16 Hawaiʻi-based businesswomen. It was a month-long virtual boot camp designed to help them improve their businesses. All of the wāhine sell products that showcase Hawaiʻi in a pono way and that target visitors as a primary or secondary audience. – Photo: Courtesy

By Kanoe Takitani-Puahi, Director of Programs, Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association

Established to bolster Hawaiʻi’s emerging entrepreneurs and encourage a circular economy throughout the islands, the Pākōlea pilot program has taken its cohort members through a month-long virtual pitch boot camp aimed to dramatically improve and refine their sales pitches, as well as to develop a better understanding of the standards of local and regional distribution partners.

A group of 16 wāhine-led business owners from across Hawaiʻi was selected, showcasing a wide array of new, local products that share the Hawaiian Islands in authentic ways and provide connections between retailers and distributors, laying the foundation for symbiotic, fruitful partnerships that add value to our local entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association (NaHHA), in partnership with the Purple Maiʻa Foundation (PMF), developed the Pākōlea program to build relationships between kamaʻāina entrepreneurs and distribution channels throughout the visitor industry to start conversations and create opportunities to place authentic, locally made products in front of visitors to Hawaiʻi.

The intensive accelerator program provided platforms through which the cohort members could connect with and learn from experienced entrepreneurs and experts to further develop their pitch strategy and their businesses in the direction of distribution. In addition to building pilina with 15 other cohort members, having ample opportunities to pitch and receive live feedback, and having the chance to connect with numerous local and regional buyers, Pākōlea participants were able to collaboratively grow their businesses together.

At the conclusion of the program, cohort members were given an opportunity to present their newly enhanced sales pitch at an in-person hōʻike at the Royal Hawaiian Center in Waikīkī. Not only did this showcase allow for four hours of live pitching, but cohort members were able to network and receive direct strategic feedback from buyers and representatives, both local and regional.

Pākōlea was developed specifically to help businesses that have a proven product but need assistance with distribution and with forging connections with the visitor industry. The pilot program focused on all wahine-owned businesses, with the majority being Native Hawaiian, an initiative inspired by Hawaiʻi FoundHER. Acknowledging the complex challenges that female business owners often face, this initial cohort was created with the goal of uplifting female entrepreneurs in Hawaiʻi and inspiring collaboration between like-minded individuals in the industry.

Under that direction, this year’s cohort participants were carefully selected based on a range of qualifications, the primary criteria being: the business is Hawaiʻi-based, the owner is a permanent resident of Hawaiʻi, the business has a CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) product that showcases Hawaiʻi in a pono way, and its products target visitors as a primary or secondary audience.

Priority was given to those whose businesses are in earlier stages and have not yet gained access to larger distribution channels, but who maintain a realized proof-of-concept with products that have the potential to be scaled for distribution.

“We are incredibly proud of Pākōlea and our kamaʻāina, wahine-owned businesses that participated in this inaugural cohort,” said Mālia Sanders, executive director of the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association. “We hope this initiative will set the foundation for a long-term mission of strengthening, elevating, and bridging the gap between Hawaiʻi’s locally owned businesses and the visitor industry.”

Pākōlea Program Website

You can help support the hardworking wāhine who participated the pilot Pākōlea program, as well as other kamaʻāina-owned businesses, by shopping local throughout the Hawaiian Islands. For a full listing of the Pākōlea cohort members, please visit or scan the QR code below.