Blue Startups Announces Sixth Cohort
Blue Startups, Hawaii’s first and longest-running technology venture accelerator, is hosting an Open House event at its downtown Honolulu headquarters tomorrow to introduce the members of its latest and largest cohort of early stage startups… including one I co-founded.
There are ten companies in this sixth accelerator round, five of them from Hawaii and five from out of state. They are:
- BlueSpotPark: A venue-specific, mobile platform-based, premium parking solution that dynamically optimizes an organization’s parking resources.
- Findally: A visually driven product engine. Find answers to whatever you want, on-demand.
- Freshr: Creating and opening up markets that sustainable fishermen can sell into.
- Grumble: A mobile app and social media message board for the times in life that aren’t so great.
- Keyreply: An omnichannel keyboard that helps the mobile workforce respond faster and better for increased customer satisfaction and employee happiness.
- Leet: A skill-based eSports platform where players compete against each other in their favorite video games for money.
- NestEggGuru: Offers financial advisors and consumers an innovative, intuitive way to stress test retirement savings and spending strategies.
- QuestOrganizer: A flight search engine that adds value with spontaneous destinations while lowering the total booking cost.
- SmartYields: A SaaS that monitors and adjusts inputs to enhance growing conditions.
- Zefyr: A personal CRM for Gmail.
A couple of these startups may sound familiar: Grumble was the second-place winner at the seventh Startup Weekend Honolulu event in June, and Freshr is returning to the program after making it into Blue Startups’ previous cohort. But SmartYields is new, and the startup I’m a part of.
Having followed, covered, and supported the local startup scene for years — including more than a few blog posts about Blue Startups in particular — it’s thrilling and daunting to now see things from the inside. And I’m grateful to our team’s lead founder, Vincent Kimura, for bringing me aboard.
I’ve known Vincent for more than fifteen years, first crossing paths when he worked as an intern at my first “real job” at the Pacific Basin Economic Council. And we’ve kept in touch ever since, as he went on to study in Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, and Beijing, earned his Environmental Science degree at Oregon State University, and an MBE from the renown Thunderbird School of Global Management.
He has a knack entrepreneurship as well as a deeper vision to change the world, and his current company, Inovi Group, illustrates that. Recently profiled in Pacific Business News, his focus is environmentally friendly tech. And after building a successful business working with local farmers to increase yields and reduce waste with microbes, the idea for Smart Yields was born.
As an early-stage startup, the pitch and value proposition of Smart Yields is evolving quickly, but essentially it’s an ag-tech startup focused on “smart farms.” If you’ll pardon the jargon, we’re building a software platform that will help small to medium sized farms maximize their crops through real-time monitoring of farm conditions, actionable insights based on historical data and forecasts, and — further down the line — automated control systems.
There is a hardware component, with the hopes of offering an end-to-end, plug-and-play package (more jargon!), but the heart of Smart Yields is the front-end dashboard and back-end database.
There are a dozen different ways to frame the problem that Smart Yields is solving, and we’ll certainly have to refine our offering and message quickly. But I can share the angle that hooked me personally. There are only two ways to grow enough food to feed everyone: commit much more land to agriculture, or commit to getting more out of the land we already have. Hawaii, in particular, must absolutely get the most out of its precious real estate. Of all the places where we’re seeing technology improve efficiency and reduce waste — from manufacturing to retail to transportation — farming is perhaps the most critical, and meaningful.
But that’s way too long for the first third of an elevator pitch.
When Vincent first approached me, he was crazy enough to envision me in a technical role. Fortunately, as we felt out the edges of the business opportunity and plan, we were ultimately able to build a strong team. Vincent first found a great third co-founder in Isar Mostafanezhad, a University of Hawaii researcher who has specific expertise in hardware, sensors, and telemetry. And just this week, we met with our lead mentor, Bill Spencer, who has provided guidance to startups in every Blue Startups cohort from the beginning. His own efforts in launching Hawaii Oceanic Technology has great relevance to Smart Yields, and his years of heading the Hawaii Venture Capital Association has given him considerable insight into the entire startup ecosystem.
We are also glad we connected with a talented developer named Justin Hedani, who not only has experience with real-time sensor telemetry and front-end dashboard development, but also a personal interest in food systems and sustainability.
But Smart Yields is Vincent’s baby, and I’m on board primarily to support his vision, which fortunately extends even further and wider than the market that Smart Yields is targeting. And I still have a job that I love at Hawaii Information Service, plus a nearly unreasonable slate of other projects, meaning that the time I can put into Smart Yields will have to come out of time I normally spend asleep.
Whatever part I can play, this will be a wonderful, educational, challenging but ultimately rewarding experience. And we invite you to tomorrow’s Open House to learn more about Smart Yields and the nine other companies in our cohort. It will kick off at 6 p.m. at Blue Startups headquarters on the 17th floor of Harbor Court (55 Merchant Street). And if meeting with ambitious and creative startup founders isn’t enough of a draw, there will be free snacks and beer.
Interested attendees are encouraged to RSVP online. For more information, visit BlueStartups.com, or connect with the accelerator at @BlueStartups on Twitter or on Facebook. And if you want to show support for Smart Yields, you can also find us at @SmartYields on Twitter and on Facebook.