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Business Trends , Economics , Entrepreneurship , Leadership , Marketing , Up & Coming – January 11, 2018

Entrepreneurs and Investors to Converge in Honolulu

The East-West Center’s signature building, Jefferson Hall, at the University of Hawaii at Manoa | Photo: Urie Layser/East-West Center

East Meets West Conference: Interview with Blue Startups Managing Partner Chenoa Farnsworth

The annual East Meets West Conference brings together tech industry entrepreneurs and investors from markets in Asia, the U.S. Mainland and Hawaii. The event will take place on Oahu, February 1-2nd, with an agenda of international speakers focused on the topics of Blockchain, Travel Tech, and Social Impact technologies.

We caught up with Chenoa Farnsworth, managing partner of Blue Startups which is the accelerator organization hosting the conference. She is passionate about connecting these robust markets and her 15 years in business strategy and private equity investing tell her there is potential for Hawaii in doing so.

Q: When and where was the inception of the idea behind East Meets West Conference?
Chenoa: When we launched Blue Startups, my partners and I asked what Hawaii had in terms of strategic advantages in the technology sector. One of the main things was connection with Asia and the work we could do between Hawaii, Asia and the US mainland. It had been talked about for a long time, but hasn’t really been accomplished. We decided ‘we have to do something to build that network’.

We started the East Meets West Conference in 2014 as a way for us to establish Blue Startups and Hawaii as that bridge to Asia. The conference has been good for Hawaii, putting us on the map with a specific role in the tech industry. We’ve always struggled a bit to find our niche in the very competitive space that is tech, but it’s an important one for Hawaii to hone in on.

Blue Planet Energy president and CEO Henk Rogers at the 2017 East Meets West Conference | Photo: Courtesy of Blue Startups

Q: What were the deciding factors for the topics of this year’s conference?
Chenoa: They’re what people are talking about in the industry, and what’s of particular interest between East and West. Blockchain and cryptocurrency is the hot topic in tech this year. The highest per capita ownership of bitcoin is in Japan. Most the bitcoin mining is happening in China. Cryptocurrency is being used a lot in Korea.

That’s true of social impact technologies as well, we’ve had conversations with investors out of Asia interested in impact investing. There is always focus on travel topics. It’s a big opportunity for us to move from being a tourist destination to creating the tools for tourism that we can export around the world.

Q: Who are some of the outstanding speakers on the panels?
Chenoa: Joyce Kim, she has a long entrepreneurial background and is deep into cryptocurrency and blockchain right now.
Edith Yeung, she is in charge of 500 Startups China investment strategy, putting US money into Chinese companies, a bit of a reversal there.

Photo: Courtesy of Blue Startups

Q: Why East Meets West Conference? What is the ultimate goal?
Chenoa: We’re trying to position Hawaii as the spot where East meets West for business. The more business you see between US and Asian markets, the more opportunity there will be for Hawaii to play a role. Ultimately, I want more cross-border businesses headquartered in Honolulu, it’s a role we can play in the global economy.

Q: What is the significance of the event taking place at the East-West Center?
Chenoa: They’ve been a partner every year, offering helpful bilingual volunteers. This year we are taking it one step further and having the event there. It’s a natural fit for us.

2018 is the first year for the pre-conference summit. We are small in numbers compared to other global tech events, so it made sense to go one step further and create opportunity for our guests to get to know each other and bond. That, and to give them a real sense of place in a location like Kualoa Ranch. We want an event that is really memorable, something that is unique.

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