— By Cheryl Cross
Meli James is the co-founder of Mana Up and serves as the President of the Hawaii Venture Capital Association. During her insightful presentation at the OWL July Luncheon, Meli related that at the age of 27 with a great education and job, she had what she calls, “A Quarter-Life Crisis.” On the advice of a friend, she sought and found a life coach who coaxed her into asking the hard questions. “I wanted to move home. I knew I would be making more money on the mainland, but I really wanted to have a good job back in Hawaii. And, I wanted a job that brought me joy.” So, Meli quit her job and started carving a life of interests that motivated her to start saying “yes” to meetings and people that empowered her interests. The first one was Wine.
She first moved to San Francisco and in 2007, Meli and a co-founded launched Nirvino, a #1 ranked wine website, and later a mobile app that ranked in the top 100 for Apple and was considered a Top Ten Lifestyles app. Desiring to return to the Aina, however, Meli made the final move back to Hawaii.
Upon her return to Hawaii, Meli initially worked as the program director of XLR8UH. Through this and other work with Blue Start Ups, she realized she wanted to apply her experience to help those entrepreneurs who wanted to build a business in Hawaii. What did that look like? She knew she didn’t want to work only on Tech Start Ups, but something that was more sustainable. It was then she envisioned Mana UP!
Mana Up is a 12-week accelerator that supports businesses <$100,000 revenue in the Consumer Packaged Goods arena. “We are designed to support those businesses who need Phase 2 resources. If they’ve figured out how to get to 100k in annual revenue, that’s when we turn our attention and help them cross the global finish line.” The beauty of a group cohort is the support. “Being an entrepreneur is lonely. You feel isolated, you feel at risk sharing your ideas, and you can limit your circle.” The Mana Up cohort allows business owners to be part of something bigger, inviting industry leaders, fellow entrepreneurs and successful business owners who share their successes and their failures.
Meli hopes to continue her vision of creating a shared vision for her Aina and the islands of Hawaii. Mana Up has bolstered the work of several business, and combined has exceeded 27 million in revenue and created 300+ jobs for the State of Hawaii.