Hawaii Entrepreneur Awards 2023: Startup Paradise Champions
Someone who consistently contributes to the success of Hawai‘i’s innovation community.
Winner: Jim Wybanand Jason Ueki, Tropical AgTech Conference
Jim Wyban and Jason Ueki are on a mission to support Hawai‘i’s agricultural technology sector.
“We’re trying to inspire startups,” says Ueki. “They are going to solve some of the world’s most pressing issues. The startups are the ones who take it from the research and IP (intellectual property) stages, then go on to have an impact on society. That’s why we are doing what we are doing.”
Wyban and Ueki are the creators and organizers of the Tropical AgTech Conference, a new approach to tackling some of the world’s biggest challenges, including food insecurity, population growth, climate change and economic development.
In 2016, the two longtime entrepreneurs launched HIplan, the Hawai‘i Island Business Plan Competition, eventually working with 200 companies and giving away $200,000 in prizes. And they noticed an intriguing pattern: 50% of the contest entrants were agriculture-related businesses, and four out of the five winners were ag-related. They pivoted in 2022 by creating the Tropical AgTech Conference.
“Our goals are to get high-paying jobs into rural areas and to use ag technology to both stabilize the state’s food supply and also to create opportunities for the local community in terms of export,” says Ueki.
“The Global South, which includes half of the world’s population, needs job creation and food security, especially with climate change. All the issues we have in Hawai‘i are mimicked throughout the world’s tropics, so if we can solve issues here with ag technology, we can have global impact,” says Wyban.
The first Tropical AgTech Conference was held in Hilo in June 2022, attracting 250 attendees; it featured speakers from Japan and the Netherlands as well as contingents from Washington, D.C., and the University of California at Davis.
This year’s conference will be at the Hawai‘i Convention Center in Honolulu on Sept. 26, 27 and 28. “We have a global perspective on this, both for this conference and for the consequences of the conference,” says Wyban. “We want global innovators to come to Hawai‘i to share their knowledge and also to ensure the young entrepreneurs who are here can have a global market opportunity.”