SBA Lauds Three Local Accelerator Programs

Mark Takai | XLR8UH SBA Award

Three Hawaii accelerator programs were among 80 such programs across the country recognized by the Small Business Administration for supporting entrepreneurs in their efforts to build successful companies and growing their local business community.

XLR8UH, the Maui Food Innovation Center at Maui College, and the GVS Transmedia Accelerator on the Big Island each received $50,000 in the SBA’s second annual Growth Accelerator Fund Competition. The two UH affiliated programs, XLR8UH and GVS, were recognized in a presentation this morning that featured SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet, Sen. Mazie Hirono, and Rep. Mark Takai.

The GVS Transmedia Accelerator, meanwhile, was the sole Hawaii representative among the 50 winners of the first competition last year.

The 2015 competition drew over 400 applications, which were whittled down to 80 by a panel of judges from both the public and private sector. In addition to Hawaii, the recipients represent 38 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Altogether, $4.4 million were awarded this year.

“These accelerators, also known as incubators and innovation hubs, are the gathering place for today’s innovators and disruptors,” Contreras-Sweet said in the announcement. “SBA is continuing to make advances in supporting unique organizations that help the start-up community grow, become commercially viable, and have a real and sustained economic impact.”

The Growth Accelerator Fund is designed to bolster parts of the country where there are “gaps in the entrepreneurial ecosystem,” with the SBA explaining that some regional communities are better supported by private-sector ecosystems than others. Its first slate of awards connected the agency with about 1,500 companies across the accelerator programs nationwide, which together employ nearly 5,000 people and have raised $600 million.

“SBA has created connective tissue amongst the nearly 130 winning entrepreneurial ecosystems now,” the agency notes. “With the Class of 2015, the number of entrepreneurs we touch grows significantly.”

XLR8UH managing director and cofounder Omar Sultan, who is also founding partner of Sultan Ventures, said the SBA award is especially notable since their program is only a year old.

“This national recognition of our accelerator program… confirms our belief in the abundance of opportunities that exist at the University of Hawaii in all disciplines, particularly those that emphasize Hawaii’s strengths in energy, astronomy, marine and life sciences,” he said in a statement.

“The Maui Food Innovation Center is an important program that offers both the training and facilities needed by local food entrepreneurs to build a small business,” added UH Maui College Chancellor Lui Hokoana. “We’re excited the project has been recognized nationally, and this additional award will increase learning opportunities for students.”

In addition to this morning’s presentation, Contreras-Sweet is making the rounds, visiting small businesses like Highway Inn and Kamehameha Bakery and doing interviews with local media. Her visit to Hawaii is the first by an SBA administrator in ten years.

Photo courtesy Rep. Mark Takai on Facebook.

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