East Meets West in Startup Paradise

East Meets West in Startup Paradise

By Nicole Tam, HawaiiBusiness, December 2016

Asian and Mainland entrepreneurs and investors will experience a different East Meets West startup conference next month – and that’s not just because some business ideas will be pitched in outrigger canoes.

Honolulu-based Blue Startups is hosting the third annual conference on Jan. 19 and 20, 2017 at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

Chenoa Farnsworth, managing director of the startup incubator, says this year’s event focuses more on embracing the beauty of Hawaii with three new activities that are not tied to traditional conference settings in ballrooms.

PADDLE AND PITCHES: An opportunity for an entrepreneur to pitch ideas to an investor in an outrigger canoe at the Hilton Hawaiian Village lagoon.

BOARD MEETING: Take a surfboard or stand-up paddleboard to the waters off Waikiki and talk story with Henk Rogers, the tech visionary and founder of Blue Startups.

POOLSIDE CHATS: Roundtable discussions by the pool.

Two events from last year’s conference are returning this year.

ECOSYSTEM TOUR: Visit different startup communities around Honolulu, including Blue Startups and XLR8UH.

EAST MEETS WEST PITCH-OFF: Five companies from Asia and five from the U.S. will present their ideas to investors during a lunch session.

Most events are included in the admission fee under a first-come, first-served system. Extra fees such as board rentals may apply.

Farnsworth says these events help both investors and attendees by creating a bonding experience and a single gathering place for companies from Hawaii, the U.S. Mainland and Asia.

“The activities created their own community and I think it will continue to grow because it’s so unique,” Farnsworth says.

Casey Lau, who moved to Honolulu from Hong Kong and became venture partner and entrepreneur in residence for Blue Startups, is the mastermind behind this year’s outdoor activities. He hopes to use his experience working with startups to create a connection between Asia’s and Honolulu’s entrepreneurial communities.

Lau was head of Hong Kong for RISE, Europe’s largest technology conference with 42,000 attendees this year from 134 countries around the world. With his experience in finding speakers and partners, and gathering communities for RISE, Lau hopes to bring together more Asian entrepreneurs to East Meets West and bring their ideas to the U.S. and vice versa.

“I really am a strong believer in this East Meets West concept and bringing teams from both sides joining in Hawaii and utilizing the infrastructures here,” Lau says.

During his time here in Honolulu, he will be recruiting other speakers and developing more ideas for the conference.

Maya Rogers, president and CEO of Blue Planet Software, has been trying to create a new era of business with digital technology. She says one does not physically need to be in Asia to get business done, and that Hawaii can be the perfect location between Asia and the U.S. Mainland.

“I encourage anyone with interest to come to the event. It’s such a great place to network and see what’s happening in Hawaii,” Rogers says.

Farnsworth says conference organizers are expecting around 400 people this year.

“We really think the event can be very large, a real signature event for Hawaii,” she says.