Maui’s Emerging Leaders Participate in Civic-thon Challenge

Feb 2, 2023

The annual Project Weekend in January brought together sixteen aspiring leaders to work on solutions to diversify Maui’s economy. Hosted by Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB), Project Weekend is specifically designed for the Fellows of Ka Ipu Kukui, a year-long program designed for community-identified, emerging leaders and conceived to address planning for Maui Nui’s future.

The Fellows worked in teams on a ‘Civic-thon Challenge’ titled “You Don’t Have to Leave – Making Maui County’s Economy Work for Everyone.”

Steven Bond-Smith, Assistant Professor with UHERO was the guest speaker at MEDB’s Project Weekend

“The challenge for the weekend is based on the downward trend of Hawaii’s population – in 2019 Hawaii had the highest rate of net out-migration,” said Amber Hardwick, Program Manager at MEDB and Ka Ipu Kukui alumna and Board Member. “They were instructed to design a project that addresses the challenge of building a diverse, robust, resilient, and sustainable economic present and future for the residents of Maui County.”

The event kicked off on Friday night with instructions provided by the MEDB team and a presentation by guest speaker, Steven Bond-Smith, an Assistant Professor with UHERO – The Economic Research Organization at the University of Hawaii. Dr. Bond-Smith spoke to the implications of distance and scale for productivity and growth in small and isolated economies.

Leslie Wilkins, President and CEO of MEDB, also spoke to the group on the results of the 2022 Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) report, coordinated and compiled by MEDB, as well as an overview of Maui Nui’s workforce pipeline. The presentation tied in well to the civic-thon challenge with the report outlining the county’s priorities and strategies for economic development.

After the presentations, the groups divided into four teams and began to brainstorm in breakout rooms. Key areas they worked on included defining the problem they were solving; their solution (value proposition) and are the beneficiaries; funding model; goals and impact.

On Saturday, seven community leaders were available to coach the teams — Gary Albitz, a Business Development Consultant with MEDB; David Daly, Business Development Center Director with MEO; Robert Kawahara, Managing Member of Kawahara + Hu, LLP; Daron Nishimoto, Director of Business Development, MEDB; Linda Puppulo, Executive Director of Pacific Cancer Foundation; Lisa Paulson, Executive Director of Maui Hotel and Lodging Association; and Teena Rasmussen, Partner, Skog Rasmussen.

The Fellows were able to ask questions and tap into their experience in the fields of non-profits, finance, entrepreneurship, workforce development, project management and more. The coaching session helped to validate and guide the teams to make sure they were on the right track with their projects.

This year the event was hybrid with presentations and coaching held in-person, and teams continuing to collaborate virtually to maximize time over the course of the weekend.

“These events are always intense with a big workload to go from the seed of an idea to a full business pitch in one weekend.” said Annette Lynch, Program Manager at MEDB and facilitator for the weekend. “Teams are expected to validate their ideas by speaking to potential users and stakeholders – this means getting out and speaking to the public, or they can also conduct surveys and over the phone.”

Teams presented their projects on Sunday afternoon with a 7-minute Pitch to a combined in-person and virtual audience as well as to a panel of three judges. Steven Bond-Smith and Brittany Heyd, Co-Founder of Mana Up; both returned as judges for a second year and were joined by Keoni Kuoha, Director, Community & Economy; Director, House Maui Initiative Hawaiʻi Community Foundation.

“Exhausting but so rewarding,” said Patty Copperfield, Transportation Director of MEO, explaining her experience working on a project. “Everyone in our cohort is unique and creative. I’m so lucky to be a part of this group.”

Reflecting on what she had learned, Lauren Nelson of Maui Nui Food Alliance commented, “This weekend has made me more keen than ever to find new industries and create jobs on island!”

The four teams came up with projects targeting workforce development. “It was interesting how all teams came up with similar ideas and yet with their own distinct niche.”, said Amber Hardwick.  “After experiencing the process of what it takes to develop a project from concept to creation, it is the Ka Ipu Kukui Board of Directors’ intent that the Fellows will apply these skills and insights in their current roles and futures as leaders and decision makers in our community.”

All teams received feedback from the judges on their project and presentation, and then a winner was announced. Legacy Mentors narrowly edged out the other three teams with judges impressed by their Maui Nui Mentorship Training Program.

The Ka Ipu Kukui Fellows will continue to meet in monthly Halawai to further develop a holistic appreciation and understanding of Maui Nui’s unique challenges, ultimately arriving at a more informed framework and a more enhanced network to better address these challenges in the future. As their May graduation approaches, recruitment for the 2024 Cohort will commence in late spring. Visit to learn more.

The Ka Ipu Kukui fellows celebrate the completion of Project Weekend 2023 along with the judges.
Project Weekend winning team, Legacy Mentors (l to r) – Lauren Nelson, Serena Fukushima, Theo Stiller and Ted Anderson