Common Ground Kaua‘i’s launches Food Innovation Center

  • Contributed by Common Ground

    Kaua‘i Wilkie McClaren, founder/owner of Hawaii Peeps modeling with a chicken in a forest in the northshore.

  • Contributed by Common Ground

    Kaua‘i Michael Yulo, owner of My Kauai Honey Co., presenting his business at a Ho`ike to culminate the Incubator@Common Ground program.

  • Contributed by Common Ground

    Kaua‘i Wilkie McClaren, founder/owner of Hawaii Peeps presenting her business strategy at a Ho`ike to culminate the Incubator@Common Ground program.

KILAUEA — Last week, Common Ground Kaua‘i of Kilauea officially met their 10 selected Kaua‘i-based small businesses, chosen from over 40 diverse applicants for the incubator cohort program, and they launched their Food Innovation Center.

The 10 Kaua‘i-based small businesses are Crossroads Pastures, Rancher’s Daughters Reserve, My Kauai Honey Co., Moloa‘a Organica‘a, Outpost Coffee, ‘Ekahi Market, Aloha Ginger Beer, Hawaii Peeps, Secret Harvest, and GrowBot.

Wilkie McClaren, founder, and owner of Hawaii Peeps, a small business offering wildcraft and organic skin plus care products has been collaborating with environmental organizations for over 15 years to restrict the use of reef-damaging sunscreens.

“The cohort helped us dream of future possibilities again, during a time we were struggling to figure out how we could keep Hawaii Peeps skin plus care going,” McClaren said. “Common Ground didn’t just hand us over a check but spent months sharing knowledge on how to move our business forward. Thanks to Dirk Soma and Adam Watten for helping us focus our attention on the best way to plot our growth and being better prepared to shift our business model as needed to adapt in this ever-changing island economy.”

Director of Program Development and Community Impact at Common Ground Kaua‘i Jennifer Luck explained her organization’s main purpose with their programs for small businesses.

“Investing in local businesses and building robust supply chains are central to Common Ground’s mission,” Jennifer Luck, said. “The Food Innovation Center is an economic development road-map for entrepreneurs, innovators, small businesses, and farmers to scale both ideas and products for consumer demand.”

The Incubator program is providing business training, funding, and connections to scale these promising small businesses and in doing so, cultivate the next generation of Hawaii-based food, beverage, and farm-based entrepreneurs to establish Hawai‘i as a food innovation hotspot.

All Incubator cohorts will have the opportunity to develop strategic growth goals and business plans through formal courses and consulting sessions. Cohort companies will be allotted $10,000 per company for approved expenditures to assist with achieving strategic growth plan goals.

“We used the majority of our grant money to purchase equipment to help us process our own Kaua’i grown and sourced skincare ingredients and be more sustainable,” McClaren, founder, and owner of Hawaii Peeps said. “We’re looking forward to all the potential opportunities the cohort has opened up for us — including working with many of the other amazing farm and food brands that participated with us. What a great experience.”

Common Ground Kaua‘i is agricultural-based commerce in Hawai‘i and its Incubator is a business development program designed to collaboratively revitalize a diversified and resilient agricultural economy in Hawaii.

This program is led by Adam Watten, co-director of the Food Innovation Center at Common Ground Kaua‘i, and Dirk Soma, an assistant professor in Business Education at Kaua’i Community College and a small business consultant at Naupaka Consulting, LLP.

The inaugural cohort for the Incubator program comprises 10 food, beverage, farm-based small businesses, and entrepreneurs based on Kaua‘i. Priority was given to candidates that represent and celebrate the traditions of agriculture and robust food systems on Kaua‘i with appeal across major markets, including:

• Early-stage food and beverage companies with niche products that have reached the market and have a unique connection to Hawaii-grown ingredients, Hawaiian culture, and global demand potential.

• Companies with revenues of $150,000/year or less.

• Consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies that serve the local market and/or need resources to access national and global markets.

• Companies that make food and beverage packaging, provide supply chain services and otherwise support the Hawaii-based food system.

• Pre-launch companies with uniquely compelling ideas.

The Incubator program started on Sept. 18 and ends on Dec. 31. Each business is required a commitment of 6-7 hours per week for courses and one-on-one sessions through zoom.

The Food Innovation Center is founded on a collaborative economic model that can be applied throughout the Hawaiian Islands to enhance food security, test product innovation, create jobs, and foster economic empowerment. The four program pillars are farming, accelerator, incubator, and distribution.

The accelerator program is Led by Adam Watten and Brian Halweil, inaugural cohort companies Tiny Isle and Slow Island are receiving hard and soft services, funding as an equity investment from Common Ground, business training, and mentorship to scale their businesses and profits exponentially.

“The COVID-19 crisis reconfirmed the need for Kaua‘i to chart a new course, one that embraces innovation, economic diversification, and lays the foundation for a more resilient future,” said Mayor Derek Kawakami.

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