Reinventing a Global Startup Conference Post-Covid

Shoots Issue 9: East Meets West 2021

Welcome to the 9th issue of Shoots, where I feature examples of 21st century entrepreneurialism. I feature businesses emerging from unexpected places or demonstrating principles that will increase in future importance.

This post marks Shoots’ 1 year anniversary, so it’s appropriate to go back to Shoots’ first issue that featured a global startup conference held in Hawaii called East Meets West (EMW). In late January 2020, people from around the Pacific Rim and Europe attended as speakers and attendees. I learned the startup community had support from the government, long-established Hawaii institutions like The Kamehamema Schools, Servco and ALTRES, and a plethora of Hawaii lovers — local residents, returning kama’aina and visitors. EMW inspired me to begin the Shoots! Series.

Two weeks ago, I attended EMW 2021 virtually from my apartment in New York City. I emerged feeling equally inspired, but in a different way. Emerging from Covid constraints, in various aspects of my life I’ve recently found myself saying “that was different, but in many ways it was better” with greater frequency. EMW 2021 was starkly different to its predecessor, but better in many ways.

Rather than meeting in person and jamming the experience into 24 hours, we were able to participate over several days. I was able to actively participate virtually from New York. I could learn about people I meet by reading their bios in the side panels, so my conversations could focus on potential connections and relevant topics. To my delight, I discovered yesterday that I could watch any EMW 2021 session on Blue Startups’ YouTube channel. In addition, Blue Startups has built a year’s worth free startup video curriculum available to anyone. This includes presentations from Blue Startup alumni and successful entrepreneurs. Other videos touch on important topics like the entrepreneur’s mindset, knowing your customer, finding mentors, building relationships and pitching. I’m certain this is no substitute for participating in the Blue Startups accelerator, but it still delivers tremendous value.

EMW focuses on how startups can positively impact Hawaii’s future. It’s abundantly clear that Hawaii’s government cannot jumpstart Hawaii’s economy for the rest of the 21st century. At best, it will help to enable others to do so. The time is ripe for entrepreneurs to take the lead and define its direction. EMW makes it clear that world-class startups can emerge from Hawaii by combining a love for the islands, pressure-testing their business with Hawaii’s constraints and augmenting it with Hawaii’s gifts.

Remote work was at the top of the list in 2020 and it has only become more important due to Covid. I discovered Instant Teams at EMW last year; they are a startup providing virtual staffing comprised of military spouses for companies. This remains an Instant Teams focus. But Liza Rodewald and Erica McMannes seized on another opportunity — to be of service to the Hawaii workforce. Recognizing that Covid caused many in the Hawaii workforce to seek new employment, they pivoted to onboard many to staff roles with mainland companies. Virtual work can be a win/win — eliminating the brutal commutes for workers and delivering educated, diligent staff for evening hours on the Mainland during Hawaii’s normal work day. Instant Teams was recently recognized as the Tech Entrepreneur of the Year by the Hawaii Venture Capital Association.

Top pitches at the conference covered key themes relevant in Hawaii and beyond:

  • How to be a smarter, more nimble investor in today’s stock market? I pitched Trade Exchange and was selected as a Top Pitch! Read more here.
  • How can we re-think bringing back a severely disrupted industry? The halt in tourism provides an opportunity to bring it back responsibly. Jessica Blotter and Kind Traveler allows travelers to deliver a nightly $10 credit to causes that positive impact the communities they visit, while also connecting them to discounted rates and venues committed to wellness and sustainability.
  • How can we ensure that we cover vulnerable populations made more evident in the pandemic? Covid has highlighted loneliness in our care population and gaps in coverage. Colby Takeda and Pear is focused on addressing this and resulting physical and mental health issues. They deliver outbound care to older adults using a gig workforce of young adults armed with technology- and data-enabled communication tools and in-person interactions.
  • How do we maintain focus on inevitable changes in our environment? Lauren Roth Venu and 3Rwater has a mobile and data platform to measure stormwater and optimize rainwater capture solutions at the property level, allowing property owners and municipalities to pinpoint opportunities to upgrade drainage systems for maximum impact. The mobile capabilities allow cities to leapfrog paper-based or clunky legacy systems to significantly improve data management efficiency and increase the accessibility of adaptive solutions to climate impacts for communities.

Companies hatched in Hawaii are using technology to address a global scourge: unproductive meetings. I reconnected with Stefan Opsal, co-founder of Redezview.io, which focuses on the collaborative space. Think about meetings in your life — recurring meetings, cross-functional meetings, war rooms. Then think about what chronically plagues these meetings — lack of follow-through, role confusion, multiple document versions, people erasing the white board. Rendezview is addressing all of this! And as a virtual company located in Portland and Honolulu, they are actively using and perfecting their product themselves.

The sky is the limit for Hawaii-born companies! I discovered what was possible by hearing about the case of Volta, an operator of public electric vehicle charging infrastructure that recently went public using the SPAC process in a $2 billion transaction. The business was hatched at Morning Glass Coffee, located blocks from where I grew up in Manoa Valley in Honolulu. Now I know real business is happening there; it’s not just people relaxing and hanging out!

Different but in some ways better. And next year will be even better and very different. That’s how I see my life, the future of EMW (2022 and beyond) and Hawaii’s future, supported by the startup culture.

Mahalo (thank you) for reading! If you enjoy reading these stories and seek to learn more about Market Junctions and how we can help businesses of any size, please reach out to Kyle Okimoto at kyle@marketjunctions.com.

Kyle Okimoto is the founder of Market Junctions, which helps businesses and leaders harness the power of disruption to generate positive change. He is also the president of Trade Exchange, a startup focused on connecting self-directed investors to top stock pickers. Kyle is a consultant, advisor and investor in startups ranging from Eargo (direct to consumer hearing aids — IPO October 2020), AltoIRA (self-directed retirement accounts for alternative investments — Series A, $16m raised), Cadence (high yield short term alternative investments — Series Seed, $4m raised) and ARIS Technology (robotic quality control laser scanning).

Founder, Market Junctions. Creator of the Resiliency Map.