This summer, Punahou School’s Case Accelerator for Student Entrepreneurship (CASE) introduced an exciting new non-credit Academy summer school program called the Project Accelerator. Led by Yolanda Lau ‘98, the inaugural cohort of students participated in a five-week immersive experience to foster entrepreneurship and innovation.
Students engaged in mini-workshops on mission-building, public relations, marketing, costing, pricing, communication, partnerships, and more. The emphasis was on hands-on, project-based learning, allowing them to immediately apply their newfound knowledge to their own ventures.
Students worked on their own unique projects, which ranged from educational animations on astrophysics by Nikhil Wong ‘27 to HIScience, an initiative co-founded by Gwyneth Tenn ‘25 that aims to provide place-based science kits to younger students. Thanks to Jana Fukada ’00 Itagaki, Director of Extended Learning, and Pamela Piper ‘91 Fox, HI Science collaborated with the Punahou summer school Outdoor Scientists class, taught by Madison Ohashi ‘16, to test their Great Plant Race kit and gain valuable feedback.
Some of the other projects included Kokua Coral (founded by Riley Gillespie ‘25), Next Wave Hawaii (founded by Anna Sophia Dao ‘25), Hana Creative (founded by Matthew Esteban ‘24), Go Blue Communities (co-founded by Emi Matsuura ‘25 and Kara Uemoto ‘25), Tofuboo Studio (founded by Hailey Oh ‘25), and a stealth project working to solve climate change with renewable ocean wave energy (Charles Koh ‘27 and Justin Morikawa ‘27).
Under the guidance of seasoned mentors and a diverse range of guest speakers, the students received comprehensive training on various aspects of entrepreneurship. Liane Usher ‘96, Director of the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center, and April Hail ‘03, Founder of Keiki Kau Kau, were among the notable guest speakers who shared their expertise and experiences with the cohort.
The impressive lineup of speakers included professionals from diverse fields. Taylor Yuen ‘23 from amataya enlightened the students on marketing, brand building, and creating your mission statement, while Chris Chang ‘08, representing Elemental Excelerator, provided valuable insights into the world of clean energy entrepreneurship. Mahina Hardin ‘23 shared her inspiring story of being a student founder of Into the Ecosystem, an augmented reality educational tool.
“Our goal was to support students in their own journeys, so the students helped us choose speakers as we went along – bringing in folks that can provide the just-in-time learning experiences that would be most impactful,” said Yolanda Lau ‘98, Managing Director of the Project Accelerator. “We are fortunate that the Punahou community – alumni, families and friends – includes so many accomplished and passionate entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders who are eager to mentor the next generation.”
While the initial cohort has completed the five-week summer session, the Project Accelerator program will continue to offer opportunities for students. They will be invited to attend workshops and engage with mentors to further develop their projects. In 2024, the class will welcome its second cohort, building upon the success of its inaugural run.
Punahou School’s Project Accelerator is a testament to the institution’s commitment to innovative and forward-thinking education. By providing students with the tools, resources, and mentorship needed to thrive as entrepreneurs, Punahou is shaping the next generation of leaders and change-makers. As the program evolves and expands, it will continue to inspire and empower students to pursue their passions, create meaningful solutions, and drive positive change in the world.
“This course is like no other,” said Mark Loughridge, the director of the CASE. “It blends a co-work space with a venture accelerator. Students dive deep into their original projects, learning from seasoned entrepreneurs and industry experts. This course is blossoming through Yolanda’s leadership.”
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