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Across a diverse section of tech businesses, from bikinis to IT to corporate matchmaking, here are the leading Hawaii women carving out their own slice of success.
After a year in Iraq with the Army Reserve, Chelsea Fernandez discovered that holding down a job with post-traumatic stress disorder was no easy feat. So she decided to start an IT company called Fernantech Inc., parent of Hawaii Assistive Technology Co. on Maui. The company’s mission is to provide people with disabilities the means to live independently with technology. She is developing tech devices designed to empower and educate the deaf, blind, and disabled.
Tina Fitch is a tech entrepreneur with multiple companies under her belt. The co-founder and CEO of Switchfly, Fitch set up a travel e-commerce platform designed to help travel companies, loyalty companies and financial service institutions engage with their customers. She is also the brainpower behind Hobnob, an event planning app that eases awkward social situations by offering beautiful, text-based invites in under a minute.
Working as a registered nurse for decades, Elsa Talavera found something lacking in the society. She decided to establish All Island Case Management Corp, which works to coordinate care services for seniors who need intermediate care. It’s a less costly alternative to nursing homes. Over 85% of her employees are female, and Elsa enjoys encouraging them to pursue their own entrepreneurial spirit, leading to establishing their own businesses.
Mitzi Toro is the proud owner behind Maui Cookie Lady, a wholesale bakery specializing in hand-rolled, artisanal cookies, baked using local ingredients, unbleached flour and raw Maui sugar. Starting first as a fundraiser to thank nurses caring for her terminally ill father, these cookies have exploded onto the island scene. You’ll see them in top hotels on Maui, Lanai and Hawaii Island, and they’re available for shipping to the mainland and beyond.
The owner and publisher of For Kauai, a monthly newspaper in print and online that highlights local businesses. Her team of freelance writers and dedicated staff have kept up their own in a volatile business, all in the name of supporting the local community. She stresses the importance of a good community newspaper: to draw attention where needed, to highlight problems and the folks solving those problems.
Sisters Monique and Sabrina run a seven-acre farm in Waianae, with 20 cows and specialty butters, gourmet yoghurt and cheeses. Naked Cow Dairy is the only dairy farm on the island of O’ahu, and boasts organic and hormone-free products. They also host private brunches and wine-and-cheese parties, and workshops teaching others how to make cheese or butter from scratch.
Inspired by her parents who owned a corner store on O’ahu, Ethel opened Sweet E’s Café on Kilohana Square in 2011. She never went to culinary school, and had to learn how to be an owner, manager and chef all at once, balancing a menu of tasty breakfast and brunch dishes. Through a series of trial and error, her restaurant has swelled to almost triple in size, with a staff of around 11.
Laura Andersland was all set to retire in 2008 when she suddenly got serious about Hawaiian sea salts. What started as a modest farmer’s market stand has grown to the global business called Salty Wahine, infusing salt crystals with tropical fruits and spices like dragonfruit, chili pepper, guava, and Kauai coffee grounds. Her salts come in 18 different flavors, which she sells to kitchens all around the world.
Inkinen & Associates is all about match-making people and business, acting as the intermediary between companies and candidates. Over 25 years, founder Kathryn Inkinen has facilitated more than 1,000 matches, with most of her clients small businesses and nonprofits. The matches and opportunities for women have increased greatly over the years, she’s observed. “I would say for women: Your destiny is in your own hands as an entrepreneur,” she advises young businesswomen.
Bikinis are big business, at least in Hawaii, the surfing capital of the world. Nadia Ribeiro, owner of Brazilian Show Room is partly responsible. The Brazilian native has thrived on O’ahu, opening three stores with 30 different styles of tops and bottoms—plus a selection of men’s swimwear.