Melialani James: Aloha to Startups

June 6 - On The Dot
It’s a great day to be a woman! Melinda Garvey here as your voice, with the mission to give women everywhere a place to be heard and tell their stories. We’d love to hear from you!

FIRST THOUGHT: Empowering Homegrown Startups

What’s the first rule of creating a startup? You’ve got to have guts. Putting a concept out into the universe to be critiqued and possibly quashed means you’ve got to have thick skin. It’s kind of like being the subject of a gossip column and then reading the comments section. Talk about cringe-worthy.

I’ll admit I’m way too sensitive to brave the comments section, but throughout the years, I’ve learned that if you’re brave enough to listen to constructive criticism, you’re better for it.


It’s hard to measure happiness, but women entrepreneurs in the United States can. According to several global studies compiled by Inc., women who have established businesses or who are entrepreneurs rank their happiness at almost three times that of women who aren’t.

There are a lot of reasons why this could be. For one, these women may not have a boss breathing down their necks. This means they can relax and have a flexible schedule.

Also, if you’re an entrepreneur, chances are you are excited about something. Most of us have worked at jobs that inspire little more than a happier bank account. But when you get the wheels turning about a passion project, you’re bound to find more joy.

WOMAN TO WATCH: Melialani James, Head of New Ventures at Sultan Ventures and President of the Hawaii Venture Capital Association

There’s more to Hawaii than laid-back luaus. It’s home to some bright minds and exciting business endeavors. Serial entrepreneur Melialani James witnessed Hawaiian entrepreneurs time and again heading to the 48 continental states to pursue their startups.

She did the same, attending college in New York before moving to Silicon Valley. While her education was in hotel administration, it just didn’t feel right. She talked to a career coach and struggled in California before she co-founded two successful apps.

But she also saw potential in Hawaii, so after more than a decade on the mainland, James headed back to the islands and got to work. She was the program manager for a venture accelerator supported by the man who created the addictive game Tetris before landing her current position as head of new ventures at Sultan Ventures.

In 2015, Hawaii Business Magazine named her as one of its 20 to Watch for the Next 20, and Entrepreneur Magazine named her one of its 5 Women to Watch in 2016.

Since Sultan Ventures started in 2009, it has raised $17 million for Hawaiian startups. The company provides educational and advisory resources, like due diligence and deal sourcing, as well as investment support. The founder of the company praises James’ talent for creating a welcoming environment to learn and develop, all while putting entrepreneurs and investors at ease.

James is also the president of the Hawaii Venture Capital Association, which provides a networking community for local entrepreneurs. And she was selected as the entrepreneur-in-residence for the Pillsbury Institute for Entrepreneurship at her alma mater, Cornell University. She visits New York a couple times a year, and thanks to technology, she can hold remote office hours.

James wants to focus on gaining more equal footing when it comes to funding for women in the Aloha State, as well as expand the community into a startup paradise.

Even though James flourished in the aggressive tech hub of Silicon Valley, it can sometimes be tougher to find success in your own community. And she’s done just that.


The master of leaning in, COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg said:

“We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation, to make sure women’s voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored.”

That’s all for now. Be sure to share this so more women can have a voice! Thanks for getting ready with us.

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