By Laura Vantine
People in Hawaii often go barefoot. At first, I thought this was just more comfortable and casual and cool. I now know it is more than that.
As an educator with no background in business or technology, many people might ask why I chose to visit Nalukai Startup Camp, other than the fact that it is situated in Waimea, Hawaii. When I first arrived, I wrongly assumed that I had little to offer to the students. My intention was to observe and to learn. For the first couple of days, I kept a low profile, just grateful for the opportunity to be here. I commented at one point that I felt untethered, as if I did not belong here. By Day 3, however, when students pitched their ideas to the mentors a la “The Voice”, I was caught off guard when our esteemed leader, Aaron Schorn, turned to me and asked which group I wanted to embed myself with. I became a resource and sounding board - as well a potential consumer! - to the team working on Group Study, an app to connect students to a virtual platform where they can study together and share resources. I was no longer on the fringe.
Chosen from 167 applicants, 20 high school students from across the Hawaiian Islands have been “incubating” in the Energy Lab at Hawaii Preparatory Academy. I did not know what an incubator meant in the business world but my new colleague and friend, Courtney Gusick, offered: an incubator is a place of warmth where baby chicks are nurtured so that they can grow and thrive! In this sense of the word, the “Energy Lab” has been the ideal environment for the Nalukai students to do just that.
For 10 days, these high schoolers immerse themselves in their own “lean startups” demonstrating not only their skill sets (Android, iOS, software, hardware, social media, etc), but also their hearts. From 7am until 11pm, (and more likely into the wee hours), five teams of students have been passionately designing, coding and writing about their projects, getting feedback from each other, from camp leaders, camp alums, professional venture capitalists and successful entrepreneurs. Creating and testing ideas is risky. But in Nalukai’s incubator, students are safe to pitch an idea, accept feedback and develop their dream.
The Nalukai team is also supported during our morning piko, which we have every morning after breakfast. Piko literally means "bellybutton," which is aptly named as it is an opportunity to center ourselves for the day’s work ahead. Standing barefoot in a circle on the grass outside the Energy Lab overlooking the hills of Waimea, we listen to Auntie Pua tell us about the mountains surrounding us, finding present meaning through myths, calling upon elements and people to be with us as we create and innovate.
I understand now that being barefoot is not solely about comfort. Being barefoot during piko, we are grounding ourselves not only in ourselves, and not only in the ground beneath our feet, but in the earth upon which we all stand and therefore, grounding ourselves in each other. Standing in a circle on the grass outside the Energy Lab overlooking the hills of Waimea, I am no longer untethered.