Eight Entrepreneurs Vie for $25,000 HIplan Prize

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hiplan-logoEight Hawai‘i Island businesses on are in the final round of the HIplan competition, which will award $25,000 to the entrepreneur with the best business plan.

Two of the competitors are Hilo physicians—Stefan Harmeling and Michelle Mitchell—who are seeking to expand their respective local family practices.

Three are farmers: Kristen Kunzer-Adair of Dam Fine Farms in Hilo grows organic vegetables for restaurants; Sara Phillips of Big Island Wasabi LLC in North Kona,cultivates the popular Japanese horseradish; and Dana Shapiro, organizer of the Hawaii Ulu Producers’ Cooperative in South Kona, seeks to encourage breadfruit cultivation and develop new food products from it.

Easybotics in Hilo, headed by Chester Lowrey and his sister, Emma, manufactures robotics kits for school-age children.

Puna-based husband and wife Christopher and Wendy Klepps of Ono Queens LLC raise queen bees for export to Mainland beekeepers.


Tracey Ackerman seeks to expand The Spoon Shop LLC in Kailua-Kona from retail kitchen equipment to a certified teaching kitchen.

The eight finalists were chosen from 15 semi-finalists based on presentations they all made on the UH-Hilo campus on Oct. 22 to local businesspeople serving as judges:

  • Robbie Melton, CEO of the state’s High Tech Development Corp.
  • David De Luz, Jr., CEO of Big Island Toyota
  • Kona Moran, Realtor and VP of Hilo Brokers
  • Lorraine Shin, a Hilo-based entrepreneur and real estate developer
  • Jack Jackson, CEO of Volvo Hawai‘i

All 15 presentations were streamed live over the UH-Hilo Hawai‘i Interactive Technology System website, and can be viewed online.

The HIplan competition, which began in September with 49 contestants, is hosted by UH-Hilo and sponsored by the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce.


The co-chairs, originators and organizers of the HIplan project are aquaculture entrepreneur Jim Wyban and Realtor Kelly Moran, president of Hilo Brokers.

“Our goal,” said Moran, “is to stimulate an entrepreneurial ecosystem here on Hawai‘i Island.”

On Nov. 5, the finalists must demonstrate three skills that entrepreneurs deem critical to obtaining venture capital nowadays.

“They will submit a detailed business plan, fine-tuned from feedback they’ll have received in the two previous rounds,” said Wyban. “They will make 15-minute oral and PowerPoint presentations. And they will deliver a two-minute ‘elevator pitch,’ so-called because being able to explain what you want to do and how very briefly—as if during an elevator ride—is often vital to obtaining financing in the real world.”


The public is invited to the final round of the HIplan competition. It will be held on the UH-Hilo campus, starting at 9 a.m. in room UBC 100. It will also be live-streamed online on the HITS website.

HIplan Finalist Judges 

  • Howard Dicus, business reporter for KGMB
  • Murray Clay, managing director of the Ulupono Initiative in Honolulu
  • Don Kosak, a venture capitalist with The Technology Exchange
  • Scott Ferrell, a business attorney who recently moved to the Big Island from Southern California
  • Chenoa Farnsworth, president of Hawaii Angels and CEO of Blue Startups
  • Chuck Erskine, Hilo-based vice president of First Hawaiian Bank.

“There are too few ‘bridges’ between the island’s business community and the university,” said HIplan Co-chair Moran. “Our long-term goal, shared by all of the participants, is to establish an island-wide entrepreneurial ecosystem that includes business people and UH people. Too often, university graduates cannot find work here. We want to expand their opportunities.”

“The business communities of East and West Hawai‘i tend to be separate, so we feel that the Hiplan enterprise will stimulate collaboration,” HIplan Co-chair Wyban noted. “The Silicon Valley experience shows that networking is the ‘secret sauce’ of successful places.”

For more information, go to, or contact Jim Wyban at (808) 938-2840 or [email protected].

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