Hawaii Entrepreneur Awards 2023: Entrepreneur of the Year
Awarded to the individual or team that has gone above expectations with their company, and is a clear example to other entrepreneurs.
Winner: Elden Ito, RVCM
When he looks back at his earliest venture in the late 1980s, Elden Ito says he couldn’t have foreseen the direction his career would take, or the heights it would reach.
Shortly after returning home from graduate school at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Ito and his brother Keith started a graphic design business in Kalihi.
“We started up under the mango tree at my mom’s house,” recalls Ito, with a laugh.
Over decades, the microbusiness grew into a high-tech company that now employs 150 people and recently won a $400 million federal contract from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
The journey in between was full of twists and turns. “I was never really afraid to change or even completely demolish things and start over from scratch,” Ito says.
In 1990, he moved the makeshift office to a proper rented space. He persuaded his brother to join him in launching RevaComm – now called RVCM – where they were early adopters of desktop publishing and website design.
“We caught the rising tide of the internet,” says Ito. He opened a Silicon Valley office in 2001, at the height of the dot-com bubble, to capture more business. But by the end of the year, the bubble had burst, “and our company almost burst with it.”
After several years of losses, his brother left to teach graphic design at UH Mānoa, where he discovered Brett Kimura, a computer science major with a gift for design. Kimura was brought on as a web developer, then IT director and VP.
Kimura now heads the day-to-day operations as president, while Ito serves in a consultative and oversight role as chairman of the board.
“Brett was instrumental in bringing us more deeply into the enterprise digital-transformation type of work,” says Ito, who began to turn his attention to getting federal contracts.
RVCM won a small Air Force contract, then bigger ones that eventually led to the hefty Medicare contract.
That award came right as the pandemic “shook up everyone’s perspective of what is the norm,” says Ito. “Pandemic conditions actually helped us grow because we didn’t have to take out physical office space. And on the customer side, they became more open to dealing with a company way out in Hawai‘i.”
Ito has stepped back now but says the company is in good hands. “The leadership team is doing a better job than I could, and that’s a great position to be in,” he says. “It’s like getting to see your child become more capable than you.”