ThriveHI Awarded $300,000 Federal Grant to Cultivate Hawaii’s Technology Ecosystem

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Trung Lam
ThriveHI head of community Trung Lam. Photo by Noah Williams.

The U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) has awarded a $300,000 federal grant to ThriveHI, a Hawaii-based nonprofit, to support the growth of technology entrepreneurship in the state.

ThriveHI is one of 60 organizations across 36 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico that received a total of $53 million in Build to Scale grants this year from the EDA. The grants are designed to “accelerate technology entrepreneurship by increasing inclusive access to entrepreneurial assistance and startup capital,” according to the agency.

With the funding, ThriveHI plans to facilitate “network building, strategic alignment, and increased collaboration” within Hawaii’s technology ecosystem over the next two years, the organization wrote in its grant proposal.

Specifically, ThriveHI will create an official statewide network of nonprofits, businesses and individuals committed to developing Hawaii’s technology sector.

“We will identify knowledge gaps in our network and strategically source organizations across the islands that will most contribute to the growth Hawaii’s tech ecosystem and cultivate an inclusive field that involves various sectors that intersect with tech (e.g., education, government, venture capital),” the proposal states.

The proposal was largely drafted by Sonia Romero, who will serve as ThriveHI Executive Director.

ThriveHI also aims to use a data-driven approach to identify the technology niches where Hawaii is most likely to succeed.

“We plan to commission a research report… to gain a data-backed understanding of the tech niches where Hawaii has the highest probability of success,” the proposal says.

The results of the study will help guide the creation of a strategic plan for ThriveHI’s network.

Additionally, ThriveHI plans to break down communication barriers between organizations to improve coordination and collaboration within Hawaii’s technology ecosystem.

“By implementing this strategy, we aim to leverage the collective efforts of various actors in Hawaii’s tech ecosystem, overcome the challenges posed by our geographical location, and pave the way for a robust, resilient, and diversified economy,” the proposal states.

Building a Tech Ecosystem in Hawaii

ThriveHI said Hawaii has long sought to diversify its economy beyond tourism by growing its technology and innovation ecosystem. However, previous efforts were often conducted in isolation.

“Given Hawaii’s geographical remoteness and limited resource availability, the State must work together as a cohesive movement to build a tech hub,” ThriveHI wrote.

The organization said the Build to Scale grant will be “a significant boost” in helping it serve as a “field catalyst” to convene organizations and align them behind a strategic vision to cultivate Hawaii’s entrepreneurial tech sector.

ThriveHI was established in 2022 as a fiscally sponsored project under the Pacific American Foundation.

Since its founding, the organization has built connections with over 60 groups in Hawaii working to expand the local technology ecosystem. ThriveHI has also grown its newsletter to over 500 subscribers.

“We have successfully cultivated a newsletter with a readership of over 500 individuals 60 tech-ecosystem building organizations and collaborated on 27 events in partnership with five of these organizations,” the proposal states.

Overcoming Challenges

ThriveHI recognizes potential challenges in completing the economic study for Hawaii due to academic bureaucracy and securing full buy-in from stakeholders for its strategic plan.

But the organization said it has already built strong partnerships in Hawaii’s ecosystem that will help mitigate these obstacles.

ThriveHI also said it is prepared with both conservative and aggressive spending strategies depending on the level of follow-up funding after the grant period.

Upon completing the two-year grant period, ThriveHI plans to expand the project’s impact by applying for additional funding opportunities and soliciting support from network member organizations.

“Our dedication to the long-term success of the ThriveHI Field Catalyst Development Study is unwavering,” the proposal states. “We have proactively devised strategies to overcome anticipated challenges and have mapped out a clear plan for continuing and expanding our operations even after the grant period ends.”

The Venture Challenge and Capital Challenge

The Build to Scale program was comprised of two competitions this year — the Venture Challenge and the Capital Challenge.

According to the EDA, the program aims to “accelerate technology entrepreneurship by increasing inclusive access to entrepreneurial assistance and startup capital.”

In announcing this year’s recipients, Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said the Build to Scale program “aims to accelerate technology entrepreneurship by increasing inclusive access to entrepreneurial assistance and startup capital.”

The Venture Challenge supports programs that enable high-growth technology entrepreneurship and promote inclusive access to proven entrepreneurship models.

ThriveHI was awarded an Ignite grant under the Venture Challenge tier, which provides funding to plan and launch new tech-based economic development strategies.

The Capital Challenge meanwhile increases access to capital in communities where risk capital is limited through support for investment funds, networks and training programs focused on equity-based financing.

In total, the 60 Build to Scale grantees will provide $55 million in matching funds, with support coming from an array of public and private sources.

“Investing in scalable startups and expanding access entrepreneurial capital will yield good-paying jobs, economic resiliency, and equitable growth in communities throughout America,” added Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Alejandra Y. Castillo.

The grants are part of the Build to Scale program administered annually by the EDA and funded under the Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act.

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