3rd Annual Hawaii Small Business Conference celebrates, inspires small businesses

May 13, 2019

Entrepreneurs and small businesses across the country and here in Hawaii were recognized and celebrated during SBA’s National Small Business Week.  On Maui, over 20 national and local experts gathered to share with local businesses their invaluable insights and keys to success during the 3rd Annual Hawaii Small Business Conference held on May 8 & 9 at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.
The conference was presented by Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB) with support from County of Maui Office of Economic Development.
According to Leslie Wilkins, MEDB’s President and CEO, “Small businesses are the lifeblood of Hawaii’s economy. It’s one of the main reasons why this conference was created to help small businesses plan, build, and grow in an effort to map out a pathway to their success.”
During the two-day conference, attendees heard from experts and business owners on employee engagement, customer service, succession planning, Google tools, video marketing, fraud protection, tax strategies, trademarks and branding. Among the tips and insights shared by conference presenters were:

“Any small business owners that want to grow, need to create systems so that things can get done the right way even when they’re not there,” said opening keynote TJ Schier, President/Founder of SMART Restaurant Group. “So then they can focus on growing their business however big they want it to be, but they’ve got to be able to make sure everything is running while they’re there and when they’re not there.”

Michael Powers, Former CBS Interactive, Splash Inc., and YouTube shared points on building an online presence. “Today, no matter what online platform you’re using, things need to be bite size. Businesses need to shift their online marketing to create a drum beat – a message that is quick, has an impact – and then you move on to the next thing.

“When you’re ready to sell your business and looking to create a succession plan, there are a number of important things to consider,” said Teena Rasmussen, Partner in Skog Rasmussen LLC. “Know that it will take much longer to sell your business than you think; if you have children who are interested in any part of the company, hire a business succession firm to assist in getting to the truth about what their desires are; make sure your financials are in impeccable order; get professional help to put a dollar value on your business; and strategize on how to inform your employees, customers, and vendors to avoid any undue stress.”

Rachel Ray, Owner and Artist of U‘i Gallery, who spoke to conference attendees about ‘Customer Service with Aloha,’ contributed, “As a business owner I learned that you have to work extra hard. When you’re clocking in and clocking out for another company you basically work there. But when you’re a business owner, you’re constantly thinking about what’s next. What can I do to grow my business? What new product can I source or create?”

During the conference, cobbler, artist, fashion designer and entrepreneur, Teri Edmonds of If the Shoe Fits, spoke about how she’s been able to build a following and sales using video marketing on YouTube to promote her company. “I like to eliminate risk as much as possible and that’s why I diversified. Having different sources of income has really helped me grow my business.”

In the first panel discussion, Kim Svetin, President of Molokai Drugs, shared “One of the biggest challenges on Molokai is online shopping sites and the money leaving our state going to businesses who are not headquartered in Hawaii. Our strategy for our pharmacy is we focus on interpersonal relationships and knowing our customers. We greet them by name and treat them like family.”

According to Russell Adkins, CFO for Maui Brewing Company, who participated in the ‘Lessons learned from being attacked’ panel, “If you want to prevent fraud, make sure you’re involved in your business. Some people don’t like numbers, but unfortunately, numbers are everything and business owners need to take responsibility and be on top of it.”
“Trademark and branding is often overlooked because it seems obvious – you have this great image and company name and you’re going to use that,” said Keri Mehling of McKeon Sheldon Mehling who helped lead the Intellectual Property and Branding workshop. “The problem is if you haven’t spent money and resources in advance to protect it, someone can swipe it from you. So our goal is to help people understand not only how to set up their business but to create their business in a sustainable way.”

Attendees also shared insights during the conference:

“Most of the vibrancy of the business community in the U.S. really comes from small businesses,” said Wayne Wong, Maui Center Director for the Hawaii Small Business Development Center. “Small businesses add 60 percent of the actual new jobs that are created each year and it’s also where innovation starts. So this local conference not only celebrates small business with knowledge sharing but gets more and more people motivated and understanding the importance of small business.”
Angie Leone, Owner & CEO of Coconut Condos and 2019 SBA Small Business Person of the Year for Maui County brought two of her team members to this year’s conference. “I feel that professional development, like this conference, is really important to me as an owner and it’s one way to invest in my company and my employees who are our greatest assets. One of the biggest challenges in doing business in Hawaii is finding really good people. And, I feel that when you find those people who are worth their weight in gold, you need to focus on how to keep them, how to motivate them, and to keep them engaged.”
Closing keynote speaker, Pono Shim, President of the Oahu Economic Development Board, helped attendees explore the wisdom that Native Hawaiian values can bring to one’s business endeavors. “I’m just helping people experience their relevance.”
After expressing her gratitude to her MEDB team, the conference speakers, and everyone who came out to attend the conference, Wilkins shared, “The reason why we asked Pono to be here is because the underlying principal of everything we are striving for is framed in Aloha and doing so with collaboration, civility, integrity, and kindness to help Maui continue to be the special place it is; a place for our young people to stay or return home. And, our businesses and entrepreneurs are the job creators and innovators that strengthen our economy and create opportunities for shared prosperity.”
“It’s really the American dream to own your business and this week is celebrating the people who have taken that initiative to do these things on their own,” said Schier. “So the more we can support these entrepreneurs and get people around us to support these businesses, the more we can make the American dream possible for everyone.”
For more information on the annual Hawaii Small Business Conference, visit www.HawaiiSmall.Biz,
The 2019 Hawaii Small Business Conference was presented by Maui Economic Development Board with support by the County of Maui Office of Economic Development.  Sponsors included: Pacific Media Group, The Maui News, Grow with Google, HTDC, ProService Hawaii, Akina Tours, Allstate Insurance–Matthew Cerizo Agency and Coconut Condos. Community Partners were: Maui Chamber of Commerce, Maui Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce, Maui Hotel & Lodging Association, and Economic Development Alliance of Hawaii.