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Gender equity center boosts burgeoning ecosystem of female entrepreneurs in Hawaii

screen cap of Kalani Bright wearing headphones and smiling during a Zoom call in which she accepted the first place prize for Mana Studies in the Pitch Competition
June 23, 2021

Arizona State University’s Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology co-hosted a virtual pitch competition on June 17 sponsored by AnitaB.Org to support Hawaii-based startups led by women.

“It was so exciting and heartwarming to see this event finally come to fruition,” said President and CEO Brenda Wilkerson. “This is something we’ve been talking about for at least two years. We couldn’t be happier with this experience and can’t wait to see the impact these amazing women are going to have on our world.”

Wilkerson was one of the three judges for the event, along with Quincy Brown, head of the programs department at, and Darien Siguenza, program manager at Hawaii's new accelerator program designed for and by women — Hawai'i FoundHer. These three women focus on connecting, funding, uplifting and mentoring women and their entrepreneurial aspirations.

Six finalists were chosen to participate in the competition from an array of emerging female entrepreneurs who use science and technology to address challenges and create new opportunities to make a positive impact in Hawaii and beyond.

First place was awarded to Kalani Bright at Mana Studios for the ʻŌleloflix platform that uses crowdsourcing and technology to translate any Netflix or Disney+ film into ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language). This organization won $5,000 to advance its work, empowering Indigenous communities to renormalize their language by integrating it into popular media platforms.

Second place went to Noe Foster at HealthTechApps whose platform pairs AI with video to capture, compute and communicate mental health symptoms and triggers as they unfold to assist users in authoring their own health stories so that health professionals can better personalize interventions and improve quality of life.

In third, Mauka Market, presented by Trinity Asing, hand-selects artisans who are committed to sourcing ethically and developing a restorative ecosystem to create a platform for these products to be sold and purchased. In fourth, 3Rwater Inc. and its founder, Lauren Roth Venu, created a platform that utilizes rainfall data and gauges to develop green stormwater infrastructure and management strategies for individual properties.

To round out the competition awards, Nohealani Frizzell at Native Stories provides an audio player that allows users to take walking tours and hear Native stories, which is also supported by the popular Native Stories podcast, and Joelle Simonpietri at Aloha Carbon takes construction and demolition waste and converts it into green hydrogen and sustainable aviation fuel. 

This pitch competition is just one of the many Hawaii-based initiatives that the Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology has been a part of over the last couple of years. Executive Director and founder of the center Kimberly Scott is committed to continuing to amplify the burgeoning ecosystem of female entrepreneurs and supporting more girls of color in STEM.

“My center is honored to collaborate with Hawaii partners on this important endeavor. Thanks to the foresight and benevolence of, the pitch competition allows us to provide opportunities and resources so that more techno-social change agents can build their capacities for transforming STEM. At a time when many organizations are new to supporting and/or driving social justice initiatives, our center has been engaged in equity practices since its inception five years ago. Integral to our work is supporting future leaders such as those who participated in the pitch competition.”

In addition to their prize money, each finalist has been given the opportunity to work one-on-one with Siguenza at Hawai'i FoundHer to polish their pitches and business models.

“Throughout my career supporting startups, I have seen the significant challenges that women and mother entrepreneurs face. Women-led startups receive 2-3% of venture capital funding, and women of color receive less than 1%,” Siguenza said. “Events like this are critical to elevating women in business and providing them exposure for future opportunities. Supporting women-owned businesses in Hawaii creates jobs in our communities, empowers women as leaders and leads us toward a future free of tourism dependence.”

Hawai'i FoundHer is tailored to the needs of Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and/or Asian women and mothers starting businesses. Co-founder Bella Hughes said, "Women, and especially women of color, are historically over-mentored and underfunded. The barriers to entry to build a new business with a clear path to profitability are increasingly more challenging, and very few accelerators and incubators are designed to empower women entrepreneurs holistically.” Hawai’i FoundHer aims to provide funding, child and elder care, workspace and mentoring to five women-led startups in five core markets of Hawaii’s economy: technology, fashion, health and wellness, food system/restaurants, and keiki/education. Its pilot program is set to launch this September, and it is currently accepting applications to participate until July 1.

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