Be prepared for much more than an exchange of business cards when entrepreneurs and investors from Asia and the Mainland meet with local businesspeople for the sixth annual East Meets West conference in Honolulu.
“You’ll actually build relationships and have the time and space to be able to do that – in addition to experiencing (what’s) unique about Hawai‘i,” says Chenoa Farnsworth, managing partner of event organizer Blue Startups.
“We really use the event as a showcase for what’s happening in Hawai‘i right now,” and also as a way of “opening some minds to thinking about Hawai‘i differently.”
Farnsworth says that in addition to hearing keynote speakers, people can sign up for stand-up paddling, hiking, surfing and other outdoor activities.
“They get to really experience what’s amazing about Hawai‘i. And the benefit also of doing that is that you really bond with people in a different way than you would just seeing them in a hotel.”
Blue Startups, the startup accelerator hosting the conference on Jan. 30-31, chooses the topics based on what’s trending and relevant to markets in Asia, Hawai‘i and the U.S. Mainland.
This year’s topics are:
- Artificial Intelligence
- Sustainability (Climate, Oceans, Waste)
- Future of Work
- Nontraditional Funders & Founders
- Reinventing Education
Farnsworth says Hawai‘i is a great place to discuss the future of work because it is attracting digital nomads and remote workers – people who can work from anywhere in the world but want to live here.
“I think that’s a trend that will continue and it’s a trend that Hawai‘i can capitalize on in order to bring in additional talent to our workforce and resources to our economy,” she says.
“The startup ecosystem is very robust in the kind of early stage companies,” Farnsworth says. “So there’s a lot of new companies coming up, a lot of accelerators, different sectors here to support them.”
The conference also attracts young entrepreneurs and students interested in learning more about businesses. This year, Blue Startups is partnering with American Savings Bank to invite high school students participating in the bank’s KeikiCo business plan competition.
“We really think it’s important to plant the seeds, regarding entrepreneurship, early in a student’s thought process,” Farnsworth says. That way, she says, “even if these kids do go off to college on the Mainland,” perhaps they’ll consider coming back to Hawai‘i to start their own companies. “So I think it’s important to plant those seeds and to expose our students to things, concepts and ideas they might not otherwise get exposure to.”
Each year, the conference features about 30 keynote speakers. Speakers this year include Tim Young, a founding general partner at Eniac Ventures; Mara Zepeda, co-founder and CEO of Switchboard; and Henk Rogers, president and CEO of Blue Planet Energy.
“The reputation of the event has grown internationally, significantly to the point where most people that we are asking to be speakers have had at least one colleague of theirs that has participated in the event,” she says. Those colleagues “usually say it was a great experience and you should do it, so that makes it pretty easy for us to recruit.”
One topic for the breakout sessions is the protests and police crackdown in Hong Kong, their effects on business there and how Hawai‘i and other cities in the region might attract companies that now operate in the semiautonomous Chinese city.
Overall, Farnsworth says, she enjoys seeing everyone come together for a conference where people from East and West truly connect.
“I love the idea that the world is getting smaller and that we can all essentially speak the same language – the language of entrepreneurship. … It’s really a uniting force,” she says.
East Meets West Conference 2020
January 30-31, 2020
Hilton Hawaiian Village
For more information visit eastmeetswest.co