Young, restless, unrelenting
By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer
Jimmy Chan was 10 years old when he discovered his entrepreneurial spirit.
Gregory Yamamoto The Honolulu Advertiser
Maury Agcaoili, foreground, operates the packaging machine for Hawaiian Chip Co. Cooking the chips in the background is Lars Tanaka.
Gregory Yamamoto The Honolulu Advertiser
But when his parents found out about his auction news travels fast in Hilo they ordered him to give back the money.
"I remember being so upset, because I didn't really see what was wrong what that," Chan said, laughing. "To me, I was honest. I let them bid. That was my first emotional roller-coaster in business."
Today, Chan, 29, owns Hawaiian Chip Co., which specializes in gourmet sweet-potato and taro chips that are sold at specialty retailers, including Hilo Hattie and Neiman Marcus. Sales have improved 30 percent over last year. Whole Foods Market, the world's largest retailer of natural and organic foods, may stock their shelves with Chan's chips as early as next month.
"It just started out as a little project. Then it got out of hand," said Chan, who started cooking sweet-potato chips in his Mo'ili'ili apartment before he started the business six years ago at age 23. "But I realized I was having a lot of fun. Now that I've got a lot more experience and more confidence in what I'm doing, I'm enjoying it."
Chan is one of hundreds of young, budding entrepreneurs in Hawai'i, all driven by the dream of being their own bosses and doing their own thing. No one telling them what to do, no one stifling their creativity.
They're starting lifestyle-inspired clothing lines and making glass-bead jewelry. They're designing cutting-edge Web sites and running public relations firms.
They're defying the slacker stereotype of their generation, armed with a whatever-happens attitude and more business savvy than most people think.
Annie Lin, Kristy Oshita, Eric Lau and Aaron Lovelace all business students at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa decided they wanted to run their own company.
At first they tried organizing speed-dating events for college students. But that didn't work. Then they tried operating an Internet-based communications service. That didn't work, either.
Now they sell a discount card currently called "qpqp card" but set to change to "Play Card" to UH students. The card offers various discounts at 95 retailers, restaurants, clubs and bars on O'ahu. They've already sold about 300 cards at $5 each, with plans to sell them at three O'ahu community colleges and UH-West O'ahu. They also generate income from companies that advertise on the card, brochures and their Web site.
The group has broken even on their initial investment of $7,000 from their own pockets.
"People always have ideas, we always have ideas, and to see those ideas actually make it is pretty neat," said Oshita, 22, management major and president of the UH Entrepreneurship Club, which she revived two years ago. "I get a kick out of it."
Their next big venture is to start a blog-style Web site with restaurant reviews and rental listings for college students. Ultimately, they want to be angel investors for other young entrepreneurs and start-up businesses.
"We're long-term thinkers being entrepreneurs," Oshita said. "We take this seriously ... We didn't just do (the discount) card to see if it would work. We all aspire to be Bill Gates; at least I do."
Following a passion
Part of the attraction for young people to entrepreneurship is being able to do their own thing, make their own decisions.
Photo courtesy Jeff Kao
Neal Kido, 24, created a Web site, surfboardshack.com, where surfers can buy or sell boards. Hundreds have been sold through the site.
Photo courtesy Jeff Kao
Neal Kido surfs every chance he gets. He loves the lifestyle, the connection to nature, the people he meets. But ultimately, he loves the ride.
"It's a feeling I can't really explain," said Kido, 24. "It's an awesome feeling, riding a wave and feeling the power of the ocean under your feet."
During his last semester at UH in 2003, he created www.surfboardshack.com, where surfers can buy and sell used boards. More than 400 boards have been sold through his site.
He decided to blend his passion surfing with his skill Web design to create a business that he hopes will someday be his sole source of income. Until then, he works as a Web developer at Wet Sand LLC.
"If I can have my site pay the bills and employ people, that would be awesome," said Kido, who recently launched another site www.alohasurfgear.com to sell surf-inspired jewelry and accessories. "My dream is that when anyone thinks of a used surfboard, they'll go to my site. I hope this becomes the eBay of used surfboards."
Andrew Castillo, a junior at UH and avid surfer/snowboarder, hopes to follow that same path.
His ultimate goal is to open up a surf-snow-skateboard shop in his hometown, Long Beach, Calif. For now, he's starting small, designing surf-inspired T-shirts in his bedroom in Makiki.
So far, he has a name Velocity Clothing Co. and some basic designs. But he envisions his clothing line a blend of Volcom, Famous Stars and Straps, and Lost to take off globally. Already he has family and friends committing to invest in his company.
"This isn't messing around for me," said Castillo, 21, who quit playing baseball for UH to concentrate on this business. "This is what I'm going to do when I move back to California. This is why I'm going to school."
Boom in business
More students than ever are learning basic business concepts in classrooms, even at the elementary-school level. This exposure has fueled more interest in entrepreneurship, especially at the college level, experts say.
In Hilo, about 150 high school students participate in a 15-week program in which they put together a company from start to finish. They decide on what product to sell, who their target customer will be and how to best market their business. Students have created and sold everything from cookbooks to brownie mixes to memory book kits.
In addition, they have to pay wages and taxes, track inventory and distribute profits to their shareholders. Last year the range of return on $2 stocks was $25 to $100 per share. At the end of the program, they present their annual report, complete with PowerPoint presentations.
"It's really impressive," said Jerel Yamamoto, chairman of Hilo's JA program and a practicing attorney. "It's amazing to see what these high school students can do. Hopefully they will utilize what they've learned."
Heather Tatum, an 18-year-old senior at Moanalua High School, had dreams of opening a restaurant. But after taking four business classes and managing the school store a project that became so popular last year she couldn't close it she realized being a small-business owner may not be the best fit for her.
"It's really time-consuming," said Tatum, who won the 2004 High School Marketing Plan competition. "It's not the lifestyle that I want."
But she doesn't think her experience in business was worthless. She's gained confidence, improved her speaking skills and now has a better idea of what she wants to do with her life: be a teacher. And maybe teach business.
"I think if I decided to take business classes in college, I wouldn't have been able to handle it without the experience I got in high school," Tatum said. "I definitely have become more confident in myself."
Often times young entrepreneurs get their skills or their drive from their entrepreneurial parents.
Steve Wakita, a sociology major at UH, has worked for his mom and stepdad's discount travel company, Hawaii On Sale, for six years. He's watched them get up at 4:30 every morning, often spending late hours at work, but doing what they want to do and being successful at it.
From them, he's learned the allure of operating his own business.
"Basically, you can set your own hours and do what you want," said Wakita, 22. "And all the business decisions, I'll make."
So early last year he began working on a multidimensional search engine that harnesses the power of three major search engines Google, Yahoo and Ask Jeeves with a few unique features, including Web hosting and image searches. He plans to launch an improved version of his site www.wakweb.com at the end of the month.
"This is something I want to do for a living," Wakita said. "I'm hoping this will be my full-time job when I graduate."
So far it has cost him and his girlfriend/partner Marissa Hattori about $15,000 of their own money. He spends about 35 hours a week working on his site, in addition to working full time for his parents and going to school.
But he believes it will be all worthwhile. He's banking on it.
"I figure someday I won't have to work so hard," Wakita said. "Hopefully."
Reach Catherine E. Toth at 535-8103 or email@example.com.
2005 High School Marketing and Business Plan Competition Wednesday and Thursday Sheraton Waikiki 110 students participating from Baldwin, Castle, Hilo, Ho-noka'a, Kapolei, Kohala, Mililani, Moanalua, Pearl City, Sacred Hearts, Wai'anae and Waipahu. Information: 956-5357 It's the law What you need to know and how to find the answers before you start a business: Protecting your ideas U.S. Patent & Trade Office: www.uspto.gov U.S. Copyright Office: www.copyright.gov Organizing your business Real Small Business: Finding tax forms Internal Revenue Service: www.irs.gov Knowing about hazardous jobs Occupation Safety & Health Administration: www.dol.gov Check these web sites for tips Here are Web sites for young entrepreneurs: Collegiate Entrepreneurs' Association: www.c-e-o.org Future Business Leaders of America: www.fbla.org Gen-X Idea Cafe: http://businessownersideacafe.com/ Junior Achievement: www.ja.org SBA Teen Web Site: www.sba.gov/teens The National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance: www.nciia.org Students in Free Enterprise: www.sife.org YoungBiz: www.youngbiz.com YoungEntrepreneur: www.youngentrepreneur.com Young Entrepreneurs' Organization: www.yeo.org Youth Venture: www.youthventure.org
High School competition
2005 High School Marketing and Business Plan Competition
Wednesday and Thursday
110 students participating from Baldwin, Castle, Hilo, Ho-noka'a, Kapolei, Kohala, Mililani, Moanalua, Pearl City, Sacred Hearts, Wai'anae and Waipahu.
It's the law
What you need to know and how to find the answers before you start a business:
Protecting your ideas
U.S. Patent & Trade Office: www.uspto.gov
U.S. Copyright Office: www.copyright.gov
Organizing your business
Real Small Business:
Finding tax forms
Internal Revenue Service: www.irs.gov
Knowing about hazardous jobs
Occupation Safety & Health Administration: www.dol.gov
Check these web sites for tips
Here are Web sites for young entrepreneurs:
Collegiate Entrepreneurs' Association: www.c-e-o.org
Future Business Leaders of America: www.fbla.org
Gen-X Idea Cafe: http://businessownersideacafe.com/
Junior Achievement: www.ja.org
SBA Teen Web Site: www.sba.gov/teens
The National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance: www.nciia.org
Students in Free Enterprise: www.sife.org
Young Entrepreneurs' Organization: www.yeo.org
Youth Venture: www.youthventure.org