There may be no one more invested in Hawai‘i’s startup community than Meli James, an entrepreneur in her own right who launched successful apps in Silicon Valley before returning home to build Startup Paradise. Meli has served as president of the Hawaii Venture Capital Association since 2014 and founded Honolulu New Tech, a monthly networking and pitch event, while managing the accelerator program at Blue Startups. She’s since taken on the investment side of the startup ecosystem as head of new ventures at Sultan Ventures, a boutique venture firm focused on early-stage startups and investments.
Although access to capital is still a challenge for startups in Hawai‘i, Meli believes that the real work lies in talent and workforce development. She is heavily involved in the firm’s XLR8UH program, a venture accelerator and proof-of-concept center founded in partnership with the University of Hawai‘i, and works closely with the university’s office of technology transfer and economic development to capitalize on Hawai‘i unique strengths and talent pool. The program is one of the first of its kind at a public university, and its groundbreaking work in commercializing university innovation has earned it distinction from the Small Business Administration as one of the nation’s top accelerators.
Meli is also an entrepreneur in residence at her alma mater, Cornell University, and was featured in Entrepreneur magazine as one of its women to watch in 2016. She’s been increasingly involved in mainland startup events and conferences in order to build bridges to get Hawai‘i’s startup community recognized on a national and international scale.