A Hawaiʻi Boy’s Dream of Uplifting the Islands Through Entrepreneurship

Nick Wong
Nick Wong
Jul 1, 2019 · 3 min read

There are only five native Hawaiian technology startup founders embedded in the Silicon Valley and San Francisco startup ecosystem, and I can name all five–Hoala Greevy, Lewis Kaneshiro, Eric Nakagawa, Ikaika Sheehan, and Kyle Chang. I am currently studying Computer Science and Entrepreneurship at the University of California, Berkeley intending to become the sixth name on that list. I believe the uplifting and perpetuation of the Hawaiian culture is dependent on the economic development of our people. Entrepreneurship and more generally, an increase of Hawaiians working in technology startups, can be the means by which kanaka maoli accelerate the process. We can no longer rely on a single-faceted, vulnerable economy to power the lāhui (nation).

Today, the economic well-being of our people and culture relies solely on a single-faceted economy in Hawaiʻi. As tourism continues to be the sole driver of economic growth in the islands, other predominant sectors (many of which provide employment to kanaka maoli) including construction, military, and government employment have all seen growth stop or reverse according to a recent study done by the University of Hawaiʻi. Coupled with a year of natural disasters, from flooding and volcanic eruption, sweeping through the state in 2018, the economy that feeds our children, funds their education, and sustains the livelihood of our culture, remains extremely vulnerable. We are too dependent upon an industry that not only makes our economy “more vulnerable to adverse shocks” (Bonham, 2019) but also deteriorates our environment and purges our already-scarce resources.

My dream and proposed solution to this problem is to create sustainable, value-centric organizations, or startups if you will, that set the foundation for an alternative force in our local economy. I’m studying Computer Science and Entrepreneurship at UC Berkeley in order to sharpen my skills to build the next wave of solutions that will address inefficiencies and close gaps within our communities. Right now, I’m working with elderly and caregivers across the state to create personalized reminders to help elderly never forget to take their medication again. I feel truly fulfilled in creating large-impact projects that have such a positive influence in people’s lives. Likewise, and in alignment with my dream of fostering an entrepreneurial environment here in Hawaiʻi and helping other kanaka launch tech-based startups, I am a coordinator at Nalukai Foundation, a social entrepreneurship organization for youth in Hawaiʻi focused on creating culturally-grounded leaders and fostering agency in enterprising teenagers.

I believe native Hawaiian entrepreneurs are steeped in creating systems and products that promote positive externalities on those affected by their impact. Our ancestors felt a deep sense of kūleana, responsibility, over both the positive and negative externalities of their products because their survival depended on it. The ʻauwai, irrigation ditches, enabled prolific wetland kalo (taro) production while enriching and returning water back to estuaries. The loʻi (taro patch), and loko iʻa (fishpond) are other pinnacle examples of systems, products, that generated much value for the community while decreasing the negative impacts upon the environment. This approach to business is emitted from the master narrative in Silicon Valley, and Hoala Greevy and I believe that you can still show aloha to people while doing business.

Hoala Greevy and Paubox truly understand the importance of an increase of native Hawaiians in technology and has created the Kahikina Scholarship to “encourage more Native Hawaiians to be involved in Computer Science and technology.” Hawaiians supporting the next generation of Hawaiians is what it’s all about, and I deeply appreciate their investment in me and the larger dream. Paubox’s investment along with mentorship from other native Hawaiian entrepreneurs like Ikaika Sheehan, Eric Nakagawa, and Lewis Kaneshiro has inspired and energized me to pursue my education in Silicon Valley.

I’m pursuing an education on the continent to one day return home, uplift the lāhui, and surf Kewalos every morning. I’m truly indebted to the community that has positioned me for immense opportunity. Thank you.

If you liked this article and believe in my dream, I am actively looking for further scholarship opportunities to offset the cost of out-of-state tuition and would love to connect with organizations offering scholarships. Also, please feel free to follow my adventures and projects on Twitter, Instagram, and my website.

Me attending Stanford’s TreeHacks Hackathon in February 2019

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