Hawaii Entrepreneur Awards 2023: Social Impact Entrepreneur of the Year
An entrepreneur and company that substantially contributes to helping solve some of Hawai‘i’s toughest problems.
Winner: Ka‘ala Souza, Digital Ready Hawaii
Ka‘ala Souza is on a mission to make Hawai‘i the nation’s most digitally literate state. The goal of his nonprofit, Digital Ready Hawaii, is to create a more resilient workforce that he says will help keep people from the Islands in the Islands.
Souza says he began teaching computer classes at community colleges on O‘ahu in the 1990s. In the last few years, he and Digital Ready Hawaii have been bringing classes directly into communities, and the majority of the students – about 60% – are kūpuna.
With assistance from UH, the Hawai‘i Public Health Institute, state libraries and AARP, he has been able to teach in rural areas like Moloka‘i, Hāna and Ka‘u, and in prison. Digital Ready Hawaii also has been able to give away 1,000 computers.
“It‘s kind of like throwing a single starfish back into the ocean, one at a time,” he says.
Finalist: No‘eau Peralto, Hui Mālama i ke Ala ‘Ūlili
In 2011, Hui Mālama i ke Ala ‘Ūlili started as a small, volunteer-based organization that farmed about 7 acres in Hāmākua, while also offering restoration and educational programs. During the pandemic, huiMAU became a food distribution hub for farmers and the community, says No‘eau Peralto, founder and executive director of the nonprofit.
Now, a lease with the county is being finalized for 1,000 acres of land to expand its work on reforestation, Hawaiian agricultural practices, agricultural housing, and for rebuilding an ahupua‘a system and developing programs to educate people about the system’s history and benefits to the community.
In partnership with Kamehameha Schools, huiMAU is also transforming 80 acres of former sugar cane land into an ‘ulu grove to feed the Hāmākua community. This goes hand in hand with the monitoring of coastal i‘a (sea creatures and plants), says Peralto.
“We’re looking at the restoration of the land with wisdom of our kūpuna, and understanding the ways in which everything is connected,” he says.
Finalist: Spencer Vanderkamp and Lauren Pierce, Reeler
Several years ago, UH Mānoa business college students and fishing partners Spencer VanDerKamp and Lauren Pierce noticed “super random” inconsistencies in the prices they were getting when selling their fish.
Then, during the pandemic, the prices plummeted as hotels and restaurants closed.
That’s when VanDerCamp and Pierce started selling their fish direct to consumers. They developed a mobile phone app enabling local, small-scale fishers to sell their catches for better prices, and connect local consumers with fresh fish right off the boat.
How it works: Users receive a notification when fresh fish is posted by fishers within 40 miles of their location. Customers place an order, and enter a pickup date and time.
“We’re helping fishermen earn about three times what they were earning before using the app; customers know where their fish is coming from and are saving about 50% on cost. So it’s a win-win,” VanDerKamp says.