Over 150 small business owners and community leaders met on August 2nd on the Island of Hawaii for the first ever TechConKona to hear ideas, learn about the most effective tools and to network. I spoke about the Hawaii Community Exchange project that I am helping to develop. Over the next week or two I plan to go in to more detail, but here is a summary of my notes with some commentary.
Paul Hawken, one of the founding fathers of the green business movement, opened TechConKona by emphasizing that true change comes from local communities, not from national capitals and went on to discuss his current work which focuses on “green chemistry” and “biomicry“.
Hawaiian cultural educator Ramsay Taum pointed out that Hawaii was in the center of the Blue Continent other wise known as the Asia/Pacific basin and that maybe it was time to have the Blue Continent to serve as inspiration for the Blue Planet which is really an island in space. We are all truly islanders.
Island of Hawaii Mayor Billy Kenoi, brought it even more local pointing out how the Big Island is now using over 41% renewable energy, with cutting edge research in ocean, geothermal, solar, and biofuels taking place.
One of the interesting images that linked the three opening talks was that of spheres. Paul Hawken challenged the audience to estimate what would be the diameter of a sphere/ball/globe that would contain all humanity? The answer surprisingly was only half a mile! Ramsey Taum started his presentation with a blue earth sphere, and Billy Kenoi finished his presentation described the incredibly moving sight of the rising sun and setting full moon simultaneously while on Saddle Road on his way from Hilo to Kona.
From these opening talks we moved very much down to practical solutions starting with a presentation on solutions and incentives for energy efficiency and conservation by Caroline Carl from the SAIC managed Hawaii Energy program; and then a presentation from Michael Dodge of photovoltaic solar energy installer Revolusun.
After a break, I brought the room back in to the realm of a vision for the future in the movement to invest locally or “locavesting” and the community exchange that I have been working on to match investors with local entrepreneurs. Besides describing the journey over the last two years to figure out the state-level regulatory environment, we discussed the recently passed JOBSAct and how it can help–in short, many of the provisions are targeted more to larger “small businesses” (defined by the JOBS act as less than $1 billion in revenues). The most exciting a revolutionary provision – legalizing equity crowd funding – is likely to take over a year to go through SEC and FINRA rule making – and even then, may not be workable. In the mean time, title II of the JOBS Act removing the prohibition on public solicitation for Reg D offerings (primarily to qualified investors) should make raising money from our wealthier community members easier. I reminded people that donation/advance sales crowd funding such as that done via Kickstarter is still a great tool for businesses and projects in early stages. I provided two examples of successful campaigns from Kailua Kona.
Following me was my colleague of over 19 years, Jane Sawyer, Regional Director of the SBA who provided a very practical overview of existing financing and business assistance resources available in the community. Part of the reason for my work on creating a community exchange is to address gaps in the resource network, in particular the need for equity investment. You can’t get a loan unless you have between 10%-50% in equity in the business.
During lunch, financial advisor Michael Kramer gave an update on organized sustainability efforts in Hawaii including the new legal entity that he helped to create, the Hawaii “sustainable business corporation” (SBC) known elsewhere as “benefit corporations” or “b-corps”. This adds to the list of entities that you can choose including sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), sub-s corporation, and c-corporation. Companies that choose this entity as a way to organize make a commitment to provide an annual report on their website using third party metrics describing how they are actively moving to support their communities, workers and the environment. The national leader in developing this effort is B Labs There are currently 10 states (and growing) that have similar laws. There is also a movement among investors such as those that Michael works with, as well as large institutional investors that are requiring that a proportion of their investments go to these kinds of businesses. Michael has more information at the Sustainability Association of Hawaii. Examples of Hawaii SBCs include the Hawaii Electric Vehicle Network (HEVN) based on Maui that I am working with, and Huena Power, Inc., a geothermal energy project developed by the Innovations Development Group a Native Hawaiian majority owned business with projects in Hawaii and New Zealand.
After lunch, we switched gears to focus in on social media tools with very practical presentations from Dan Luther of Dunn and Bradstreet Credibility Corp, and event MC and Hawaii radio personality Ryan Ozawa. Will go in to more detail on these presentations and more in the next post.