Through the Pacific Asian Center for Entrepreneurship, three University of Hawai‘i startup companies were awarded a total of $40,000 in grant funding in PACE’s new Liftoff Advisors program through the Shidler College of Business.
Liftoff Advisors is a six-month program that is designed to support new founders of UH ventures. They provide a professional advisory board to aid founders in becoming investor-ready.
If completion of the program is successful, Liftoff companies are in the running for grant funding.
The three startup companies that received grant funding include Hawai‘i Innovation Lab, Manaola Innovations and Student Corner.
Hawai‘i Innovation Lab
Hawai‘i Innovation Lab is an engineering firm founded by UHM College of Engineering doctoral student Kareem Elassy, postdoctoral researcher Arif Rahman and undergraduate student Jordyn Maeda.
“We research to develop new technologies that solve current problems,” Elassy said.
Elassy and Rahman, both work in the microelectronic and microfluidic lab in Holmes Hall. Maeda is an undergraduate student at the College of Engineering.
The team has been researching and developing liquid metal electronics. During the Liftoff Advisors program, they presented their new technology for a reflective coating for flexible mirrors to be licensed and then sold globally. Their invention, what they call a low cost liquid metal mirror, has universal use.
“The fabrication procedure is low cost,” Elassy said.
“It can be used in communication, solar energy, architecture and consumer products,” Rahman added. “Through our recent invention, we use this optical reflection coating for flexible mirrors.”
The founders of the company were able to learn valuable entrepreneurial skills through the Liftoff program. As a team of engineers, they had the invention ready— what they needed was a business plan.
That’s when Liftoff Advisors came to help.
They received the patent through the UH Office of Technology Transfer and were then given exclusive license to sell the product.
The founders of the Hawai‘i Innovation Lab want to encourage other students to take advantage of all the programs that PACE offers.
“PACE is guiding the students from having an idea to launching a product. It’s a long journey and PACE has a program for each and every stage of that journey,” Rahman said. “If anyone has an idea, and doesn’t know what to do with that idea, they should go to PACE and participate in the Summer Launchpad Project.”
After completion of the Summer Launchpad Project, students can develop a better foundation for a company that may be eligible to apply for the Liftoff Advisors program.
Manaola Innovations is an engineering company founded by Austin Yoshino, Kendra Horvath, Everett Amundson and Jason Chan. The multi-discipline team of students started the company to design and produce healthcare products.
The company had been involved with PACE throughout all the past competitions in the last year.
Participants will join the Breakthrough Innovation Challenge, which is concept based, turn that into a business for the Business Plan competition, and then add that business to the Summer Launchpad program, according to Yoshino. Lastly, participants join the Liftoff advisory program, which is supposed to get you ready for investments.
“It’s kind of like a linear path,” Yoshino said.
During the Liftoff Advisors program, the founders of Manaola Innovations developed a compression vest, named the “Stress Less Vest,” designed to reduce anxiety or stress.
They are still working on finding a manufacturer which will broaden their consumer base, but after that will consider adding more products to the market.
“We are still working on what was previously known as the ‘G-Trainer,’ now named the ‘Hele-Go,’ which is the walking assistive device for people with severe mobility impairments,” Horvath said.
The Hele-Go was developed by Yoshino to help his younger brother with cerebral palsy broaden his range of activities.
The team emphasized that their work is not done yet. The money received from the program will aid them in furthering their current projects, like the Stress Less Vest and the Hele-Go.
“It’s more than just programs or funding. It’s all opportunity,” Yoshino said of the Liftoff Advisors program.
Student Corner is a web platform created to display project-based student work founded by UH Hilo students George Donev, Althea Kamali‘i, Morgan Dean and Ted Shaneyfelt.
The three companies were selected in October 2019 by the Liftoff Advisors based on their potential and commitment to their company.
Liftoff Advisors Program
Anyone affiliated with the UH system with a business idea is encouraged to apply for the program. Two of the three winning companies this year were student led through UHM.
Each company was matched with a specially curated board of advisors that mentored the founders for several months.
Advisors are picked from PACE’s network of professionals including executives, entrepreneurs, mentors and coaches for its various programs.
Founders reported on their progress monthly to their board of advisors regarding business development milestones and in response the mentors would advise them at each meeting by providing feedback, recommending different markets to explore and asking the teams to consider different strategies to reach their business goals.
The final grant award decision was based on the progress each company had made after completion of the six-month program.
The three companies have decided to use the grant funding to develop their ventures further.
The Liftoff Advisors is scheduled to run every year between September and February. Teams in the program have a chance to win up to $20,000 per team in grant funding.
For more information regarding the Liftoff Advisors program, visit pace.shidler.hawaii.edu/liftoff.