Entrepreneurship – January 19, 2021

Vote Now: 2021 HVCA People’s Choice of Startup Paradise

Photo: courtesy of Hawaii Venture Capital Association

This award is for the startup that the Innovation Community believes best represents the interests of Startup Paradise. This company serves as an example for others to follow based on their successes, popularity, and the unwavering support of their fellow community members.

See below for the People’s Choice of Startup Paradise Finalists and company descriptions. Proceed to bottom of the page to cast your vote!

The winner will be announced virtually at the 21st Annual HVCA Entrepreneur of the Year Awards Gala on February 20, 2021 at 7PM. The awards ceremony will be broadcasted on February 20th on KHON2 and livestream on Facebook, YouTube and the HVCA website.

Voting Deadline: Friday, February 7, 2021 at 11:45 pm.


Here are your finalists:


Aloha Modern 
Entrepreneurs: Reyn Mukawa and Malia Ka‘aihue 

Friends Reyn Mukawa and Malia Ka‘aihue launched Aloha Modern five years ago while “talking story” over pau hana drinks. The ocean inspired lifestyle company is known for a design esthetic grounded in native Hawaiian culture and mo‘olelo – the Hawaiian art of storytelling. 

After tripling sales over three consecutive years, it now produces a full line of towels, beach bags, swimwear and other apparel, blankets and home goods.  

“We started Aloha Modern as a way to tell stories through design in a way that we were already doing but on more consumable products,” says Mukawa, an architect for WCIT Architecture. Ka‘aihue’s advanced degrees in Hawaiian studies and language complement Mukawa’s “global design perspective.”  


Ao Organics
Entrepreneurs: Chelsa Davis

Chelsa Davis launched her skincare business, Ao Organics, in 2017 from her kitchen table. 

“It all started with my kids. We were always in the ocean, and I wanted to find safer sunscreen,” says Davis, who was born and raised on Hawai‘i Island. “When I learned about the harmful chemicals in most sunscreens, I decided to make my own.” 

Ao, meaning earth in Hawaiian, reflects Davis’ commitment to the environment, which she says is rooted in her Native Hawaiian culture, as are the locally sourced ingredients she uses for her products, which were among those featured in a December article titled “Hawaii’s Next Wave of Natural Skin-Care Brands” in the New York Times Style Magazine.  



Hele Fitness
Entrepreneurs: Brook Emanuel, Marcus Souza, Gus Mello, and Dara Tarawahara  

Hele Fitness began as a “passion project” for three former pro athletes, coaches and fitness professionals who shared a commitment “to educate, empower and elevate lives through movement and community.” That commitment became their company’s ethos. 

Founding partners Brook Emanuel, Marcus Souza and Gus Melo started selling home and commercial gym equipment in Hawai‘i in 2017. In 2018 they expanded internationally, with partners now in Brazil, Guam, South Korea, Japan, Turkey, Paraguay and South Africa.  

Emanuel says Hele will always be a “local first company” seeking to “build an empowered community of individuals creating a healthier Hawai‘i.” He says education programs and community partnerships rooted in Hawai‘i’s culture are being developed and will illuminate paths to healthy, successful lifestyles. 



Jules & Gem Hawaii
Entrepreneur: Lana Gronwald 

Jules + Gem Hawaii launched in 2017, with founder Lana Gronwald creating environmentally safe, hand-poured candles from wax made with virgin coconut oil and soy.

The candles evoke the aromas she loved as a child growing up in Hawai‘i: fresh, ripe mango; the sweet, juicy pineapple she enjoyed cold on the beach after splashing in the warm surf; fragrant guava and liliko‘i picked off the vine while hiking to a hidden waterfall with friends. She soon added a floral line, including the signature scents of white gardenia, pakalana and puakenikeni.

“We are really working hard to make the fragrances as authentic as possible, not just for the fragrance, but for Hawai‘i,” Gronwald says.



Via Gelato
Entrepreneur: Melissa Bow 

Via Gelato is known for artisanal gelato and sorbetto creations featuring distinct Island flavors like haupia, mango, Okinawan sweet potato, Japanese shiso, black sesame and other “local nostalgic foods,” says owner Melissa Bow.  

“I think Hawai‘i is special in the way people feel so close with their small businesses,” says Bow. “When they choose to trust us with their business, I think that’s such a huge privilege.” 

Bow opened her store in Kaimukī in 2014 and eventually became president of the Kaimuki Business & Professional Association, where she advocates on behalf of struggling local businesses. She helped persuade the Honolulu City Council to create a landlord/tenant grant program to provide rent relief and forgiveness to businesses hurt by COVID-19.  




Voting has ended for the 2021 HVCA People’s Choice of Startup Paradise! For more info, visit www.hvca.org

The Best of Startup Paradise 2021