Empowering Pacific Island Innovators: GIST Startup Training and Investor Forum Ignites Tech Entrepreneurship

Empowering Pacific Island Innovators: GIST Startup Training and Investor Forum Ignites Tech Entrepreneurship

November 7, 2023

GIST alumni Alvin Chai of Singapore once said "We need to empower local entrepreneurs so that they can solve local problems." Few areas of the world fit that statement as well as the island economies in the Pacific Ocean. Isolated both culturally and economically, these small strips of land peek out from the largest body of water on the planet like stars in a distant part of the night sky. So far removed are some of the islands that one might forget they are on the front lines of an increasingly violent conflict between human development and nature. Nowhere else is the climate crisis felt so intimately. Nowhere else are innovators facing changes as dramatic and immediate as in the Pacific. It is against this backdrop that GIST brought its mission to engage and empower young science and technology entrepreneurs to bear. It is exactly this reason that we are seeking to put resources into the hands of those most affected--those who have the most to lose--from this crisis. As it turns out, we were putting these resources into good hands. 

In a landmark event held between October 31 and November 3, the GIST Startup Training and Investment Forum: Pacific Islands brought together a vibrant community of innovators, investors, and experts to foster science and technology entrepreneurship in the region. The 4-day program, marked by intensive training and networking, was an entirely new kind of experience, not only for our Initiative but for everyone who participated. 

This was a new frontier, not only in working to reach an underinvested region, but in the sheer energy that this community brings to fostering a science and technology future where local solutions can be pitted against local challenges–and succeed. We were inspired by the way these innovators crafted solutions that capitalized on their unique perspectives and knowledge, by and for their communities first, weaving together social impact with solid business acumen. We were equally impressed by the investor community, one which has a growing interest and hunger for local innovation, and an inspiring vision for funding solutions that work for the communities they share. 

Together, these two halves conjoined in a moment that broke down barriers and built a new foundation for continued collaboration and growth. 

In each and every program we host, we hope to be able to foster lasting connections between members of the regional innovation ecosystem we’re in, and this program exceeded even our greatest expectations in that desire. Not only is this community continuing to work together and building on the new relationships and friendships they made, we are already seeing the fruits of this deepened collaboration in new partnerships, coupled with serious investments and dealmaking–milestones we hope to see in every program. Seeing these incredible accomplishments and connections already beginning to foment, we can’t wait to see what’s next and what this inspiring community continues to create. 

Training the Next Generation of Pacific Island Innovators

GIST Startup Trainings are designed from the ground-up to empower young science and technology innovators and entrepreneurs through hands-on training, mentoring, and collaboration with top U.S. experts. Participants delve deep into the Lean Startup process, focusing on Lean Canvas models and customer discovery tools. The training in Fiji aimed to equip innovators with the skills to identify, tailor, and optimize products and services to meet the unique needs and constraints of their customers. These entrepreneurs were quick to begin to take the universal fundamentals of business development and the Lean perspective, and start to iterate on these processes in a way that fit their unique needs and context, quickly internalizing these processes and making them their own. 

Led by venture development experts Lynn Allendorf, director of the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center at the University of Iowa, and Dimy Doresca, director of the Institute for International Business and professor in International Business and Entrepreneurship at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business, the training culminated in a final pitch and investor engagement day, where innovators showcased their refined ideas to the investors community. These trainings represent a significant step in catalyzing innovation and growth in the Pacific Islands.

The culmination of the learnings was on full display by the end of the training during the Demo Day where participating innovators were able to show their growth in a friendly pitch competition. 














Congratulations to the Startup Training Demo Day winners! 

1st Place: Chris Vanualailai
Envirotech Solutions Pacific | Fiji
ESP, established in 2023, provides accessible environmental technical services in Fiji. Their comprehensive suite of services, including environmental assessments, compliance audits, and waste management solutions, helps businesses meet environmental regulations efficiently.

2nd Place: Apenisa (Ben) Maracava and Sera Keleinavutoka
Purayil Investment Ltd | Fiji
Purayil Investment Ltd, managed by local experts in Fiji, is at the forefront of freshwater prawn farming. They incorporate cutting-edge technology in their operations, aiming to increase production while ensuring consistently high-quality post larvae for farmers.

3rd Place: Livingstone Fontenu and Rhoda Wong
Southern Flame Investment Limited | Papua New Guinea
Southern Flame Investment Limited specializes in solar technology solutions. They bring alternative energy sources to rural areas in Papua New Guinea, promoting sustainability and addressing power access challenges.

Bridging the Gap: Supporting the Pacific Islands Investor Community 

In parallel with the startup training, the GIST Investment Forum brought together regional investors and U.S. experts to explore early-stage startup investment principles for the Pacific Islands. This platform facilitated collaborations between investors and early-stage innovators, fostering a better understanding of the transformative potential of impact investment for economic growth. 

These investors, many of which are already successful business leaders in their own right, saw the Investor Forum as an opportunity to learn about an area they had little firsthand experience with–investing in other people’s businesses. As such, the training focused on evaluating business plans, value propositions, scalability, and investment agreements. Participants were eager to engage with the instruction, focusing on how to actualize their vision for regional investment and bringing their shared vision of a sustainable, resilient future for the Pacific Islands to life. They particularly voiced the need for local solutions to local problems, as well as building greater resilience and autonomy for industries and shifting away from an import-first economy. These investors were eager to put their learnings into practice, and quickly began working towards building a collective investing culture that could catalyze the kinds of solutions most needed for the islands. That collective response to investing is already fueling a new network, where investors are sharing information with one another and working together to fund solutions even well after the end of the program. 

"Training programs like this build the capacity of local investors to understand and engage with innovative startups and ventures. This can have a positive ripple effect on the overall startup ecosystem in the region."

~ Investor Participant




The event succeeded in working towards this, starting with bringing the startups and investors together, with deals already being discussed between investors and innovators by the end of the week. The connections made during the event extended beyond funding, as participants also forged valuable network connections in various island governmental positions.

Rina Neoh, an investor instructor, described “This immersive experience not only expanded my horizons but also highlighted the indispensable role of angel investor training in ecosystem development. In a region teeming with untapped potential and promising entrepreneurs, this training program sought to bridge the gap between startups and the resources they need to flourish… The highlight of our journey was the startup competition that showcased the incredible ingenuity and passion of Pacific Island entrepreneurs whose ideas resonated deeply with our mission of community transformation through science and technology. These visionary founders truly stood out for their potential to bring about meaningful change… These winners exemplify the spirit of innovation and social responsibility. Their startups are not just about profits but about positively impacting their communities and the world at large.” 

Working Together to Build the Future of the Pacific Islands

The success of the GIST Startup Training and Investment Forum would not have been possible without the invaluable support of partners like the PNG Digital ICT Cluster and Business Assistance Fiji. Their dedication to fostering innovation and supporting the growth of the MSME sector contributed significantly to the event's success.

The event featured an inspiring keynote address by Julia Arnott-Neenee, CEO & Co-Founder of Fibre Fale, who championed digital equity and the representation of Pacific peoples in the technology industry. Her journey and advocacy underscored the importance of empowering Pacific creators, builders, and founders.

The GIST Startup Training and Investment Forum: Pacific Islands marked a significant milestone in advancing science and technology entrepreneurship in the region. The connections made, knowledge shared, and investments secured are sure to propel Pacific Island innovation to unprecedented heights. This event serves as a testament to the potential and talent that the Pacific Islands have to offer the world, and it paves the way for a brighter and more innovative future.

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. Read More.