Student Entrepreneurs Raise Financial Aid Funds

Inspired by the parent fundraising effort, ’21Together, Academy and Junior School students are now part of Students for PunsUnited – an effort to raise financial aid funds for Punahou families economically affected by COVID-19. Under the guidance of Mark Loughridge, director of the School’s Case Accelerator for Student Entrepreneurship (CASE), the students are selling such products as jewelry, personal care items and accessories on the House of Mana Up website, and donating profits to the PunsUnited Fund.

“I am so proud of these students,” Loughridge says. “They are tackling an urgent challenge with fresh thinking, and having a real impact in the community both in raising awareness and donating to a worthy cause. They are making a difference through their creativity, innovation and empathy – acting as leaders and entrepreneurs in the full sense of those words. I think we are creating a really exciting community of entrepreneurs at Punahou.”

Although the program initially kicked off with just Academy students, younger students are now part of the mix. “It’s heart-warming to see our Academy entrepreneurs pivot from being students to teachers as they help to mentor the younger kids,” Loughridge says.

Meli James ‘96, cofounder of the Hawaii-based accelerator Mana Up, got involved in the project after previously speaking to CASE students about entrepreneurship. After COVID-19 struck, students asked her if she would help them with their new initiative, and she was thrilled to take part and feature their products on Mana Up’s e-commerce site. “This is my way of giving back to Punahou, which taught me so much,” she says. “We always knew we could dream big at Punahou, and I felt that my passions and creativity were nurtured on campus. Now, it’s time to share these resources and the platform I’ve built, and in doing so, be able to both mentor students with big ideas along with giving back profits to help other students in need. It’s the perfect project at the perfect time. These kids have awesome ideas, and I’m just here to help them shine.” 

Tom Nitao ‘21, one of the leaders of the initiative, said the goal is to tap into the spirit of student entrepreneurship to raise awareness about the financial ramifications of the pandemic. “We hope to provide an opportunity for our Punahou community to band together for our friends and peers,” he says. “Through creating summer workshops that allow students to familiarize themselves with the basics of sustainable entrepreneurship, and a platform via Mana Up for them to share their talents with a broader community, we want to showcase the power that altruistic, dedicated students can have. At the end of the day, our project was made by the students, for the students.”

To launch the effort, some students created new products, while others offered items they already were making. Shane Komeiji ‘24 had already started a business, Nā Hōkū ‘Alohi, using recycled materials to create beautiful crocheted items, to assist underprivileged kids. Shane chose the name, which means “the bright stars,” because he believes all kids are bright, and just need resources to shine. “I chose to join Students for PunsUnited because… their goal aligned with mine,” he says. “I hope that through Students for PunsUnited, I will be able to help keep the Punahou community together.”

Likewise, Janelle Ramos ‘22 had also recently launched a business, and is already selling her stickers in countries around the world. “I feel like I’m just doing my part in helping the Punahou community through a rough patch, so we can all come out of the other side stronger,” she says.

Rising senior Oliva Wedemeyer ‘21, who has been involved with CASE since her sophomore year, said she was “all in,” when the group began brainstorming ways they could help in May. “We met with the leaders of the parent fund and with the co-founders of Mana Up to finalize our goal… so that nobody has to sacrifice their education due to circumstance,” she says.

Students for PunsUnited items are currently available for purchase on the House of Mana Up website here.

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