First virtual venture competition awards UH startups over $60,000 in prizes


The UH Venture Competition, hosted by the Shidler College of Business Pacific Asian Center for Entrepreneurship (PACE), was held virtually for the first time in the 20-year history of the program.

To place heavier emphasis on creating viable new ventures, PACE changed the name of this program this year, which was formerly called the UH Business Plan Competition. The three finalists successfully advanced past 26 other teams by pouring hundreds of hours into interviewing potential customers and developing real traction for their startup businesses.

“When the pandemic hit, we knew that canceling this competition was not an option. More than ever, our students will need the money and prizes to build their companies,” said Peter Rowan, executive director of PACE. “It’s our mission to educate and invest in entrepreneurial thinkers who can find innovative solutions to the problems we’ll face.

“These students are our future for a resilient Hawaii,” Rowan added.

More than 300 viewers tuned into the live stream broadcast of the final event, which was held on May 7.

The three teams that used their digital prowess to win over the judges’ hearts for a share of more than $60,000 in prizes were:

First Place

Pono Potions team members pose with sponsors and judges at the first-ever virtual UH Venture Competition Final Event on May 7.

Team: Pono Potions – a company that manufactures artisanal flavored syrups that are made with locally-sourced ingredients from Hawaii.

Team members: Peter Hessler (Travel Industry Management), Madonna CastroPerez (Law) and Christilei Hessler, Esq.

Prize Package: Includes $10,000 Hawaiian Electric and HEI Charitable Foundation cash prize and more than $23,000 in legal, marketing, design and startup support services.

Second Place

Team: Manaola Innovations, Inc. – a company that designs discreet, adjustable garments that help reduce stress and anxiety.

Team Members: Everett Amundson (Communicology) and Kendra Horvath (Entrepreneurship, Marketing, and International Business)

Prize Package: Includes $5,000 Hawaiian Electric and HEI Charitable Foundation cash prize and more than $15,000 in legal, marketing, design and startup support services.

Third Place

Team: What’sFresh! – an online marketplace for fresh fish and small-scale agriculture.

Team Members: Lauren Pierce (Economics) and Spencer VanDerKamp (Management Information Systems)

Prize Package: Includes $2,500 cash award in honor of pioneer Billy Richardson by HiBEAM, and more than $8,000 in legal, marketing, design and startup support services.

“The UH Venture Competition gave me the resources and mentorship to lay the foundation for a sustainable business model,” said Peter Hessler, president of Pono Potions. “Being able to accomplish this with the help from PACE during a pandemic was the most challenging and fulfilling experience in my life. I will invest the prize money in professional labeling and bottling equipment as we get ready to expand into retail and online stores in the next six months.”

The semester-long competition is made possible thanks to more than 50 business professionals who volunteered their time and energy as coaches, judges and instructors to make this real-world learning opportunity possible.

The event’s title sponsors were Hawaiian Electric and the HEI Charitable Foundation.

In addition to the title sponsors, Blue Logic Labs, HiBEAM (in memory of venture capital pioneer Billy Richardson), Impact HUB Honolulu, Pineapple Tweed, Sultan Ventures, and Vantage Counsel provided valuable in-kind prizes.

The UH Venture Competition (UHVC) is an intense, experiential program that provides a platform for University of Hawaiii students and faculty who seek to learn what it takes to be an entrepreneur and start a business venture. Through the competition, participants test the feasibility of a business idea, develop a business plan, and pitch to investors. The UHVC is one of 20+ programs offered by the Pacific Asian Center for Entrepreneurship (PACE) at the Shidler College of Business.

PACE offers mentorship, training and resources to all UH students and faculty, and its programs are designed to encourage entrepreneurial thinking across disciplines and inspire entrepreneurs to move their ideas from conceptualization to commercialization. Learn more at

Leave a Reply