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SBA National Accelerator Award Winner in our midst — and at risk

September 25, 2016 - 12:05am

We all know what an accelerator is on a car: it’s something that makes it speed up, makes it move. Now take that concept into the business world. A business “accelerator” is a program that provides assistance in helping a business move forward to achieve its goals and dreams, and we have a unique example of that here in West Hawaii.

The Global Virtual Studio (GVS) Accelerator in Kona is a “media accelerator.” Its mission is to help entrepreneurs in all sorts of creative industries — film, TV, computer apps, digital novels — move from idea to production. It’s a highly competitive program, with over 200 applicants for its 12 program openings to date. Successful applicants receive the assistance of world class mentors and coaches for their projects during a six-month residence at the Accelerator, and $50,000 in seed money to help get their projects off the ground. These fledgling projects can also get space to continue their work at GVS after graduation from the program and the chance to tap into up to $250K in matching follow up funds.

GVS has been funded for a three-year term by the State of Hawaii, through the Hawaii Strategic Development Corporation, and by the County of Hawaii. Other funds supporting the program came from private mainland investors and provide the seed financing for the individual projects. Of note, the job creation and money invested here on the Big Island as a direct result of the Accelerator have more than doubled the county’s investment to date. The problem however is that the three years are up, and state and county funding ends this spring with no likely replacement public funds on the horizon.

“Three years was all we got, said David Cunningham, Konawaena HS graduate and film director who is the principal mover behind GVS. “We’re a scrappy startup, but we’ve come to realize it’s more like five years of funding that a program like ours needs.”

Coincidentally coming along with this budgetary crisis and why this is worth talking about now is that the GVS Accelerator has just won the Small Business Administration’s National Accelerator Competition (and $50,000 prize money) for the third year in a row out of a field of 400 applicants! It is one of only three accelerator programs in the nation to have achieved this record! So what we have right here in Kona is a nationally recognized, innovative program that is picking up steam and that has the potential to kickstart the film and other creative industries on the Island of Hawaii that is at risk.

There are 12 ongoing projects at GVS and the entrepreneurs running them will go on in the coming year to refine their ideas and get into production. There are several of these that have just recently or are on the cusp of signing contracts to make that happen. Each of these represents major injections of capital into the Big Island economy for businesses that will themselves generate growth in other businesses. Moreover it’s all “green” business, fitting nicely into the Big Island’s unique environment and getting the film industry in particular away from a Honolulu-centered mentality. The Big Island is a natural for film production with its varied and unique scenery and GVS and its projects can open the door to that. These are projects and economic boosts that might be gone if new funding can’t be found.

Then there’s the studio itself. What the folks at GVS have accomplished with a scant budget is amazing! They turned their abandoned warehouse into a setting with the largest “green screen” stage for visual effects in Hawaii, started a super high speed point to point connection to over 400 film studios worldwide that allows them to do production work anywhere in the world, built a superb sound studio, and enlisted the commitment of the creative and business communities in donating hundreds of hours of time and the materials to do this. So in addition to public and private funding, a lot of “sweat equity,” innovation and a ton of local buy-in have been poured into this project. We’ve got a real gem in our midst, but it’s a gem that’s in jeopardy.

GVS is actively exploring other business models, thinking about strategic partnerships and a way to purchase its building, which in a perfect storm, is also for sale at this time. Let’s hope that they succeed. This resource and what it represents for the Big Island’s economic diversity and economic future would be a terrible thing to lose.

Join us for our upcoming workshops: “How to Write a Business Plan,” at Tutu’s House in Waimea on Thursday and “Intellectual Property Boot Camp” at NELHA, conducted by US Patent Office instructors, on Oct 7. See our website for details.

Dennis Boyd is director of West Hawaii Small Business Development Center. Hawaii SBDC Network is funded in part through Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration and the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

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