Hawaii Venture Capital Association president Melialani “Meli” James wants to share the wealth—locally.
In life, Melialani “Meli” James seemed to do just about everything to put her life on the right path. After graduating from Punahou School, James went to Cornell University, where she studied hospitality management with a concentration in tourism development. It eventually led to a job with W Hotels, and then the San Jose Convention and Visitors Bureau. There, she headed the research and marketing department in economic impact studies.
Everything was exactly as it should have been. That is, until she had a quarter-life crisis.
“I was like, ‘Wait a second, is this what life is supposed to be? I hate what I do,'” she says.
Unhappy, she quit her job and began seeking guidance from a life/career coach, who had James brainstorm anything and everything that was of interest to her. This included wine, and working for herself.
“I had no idea what I was going to do,” she says. “But it excited me to start a business.”
This venture gave way to two manifestations. The first was Nirvino (nirvino.com), a No. 1-ranked app that equips users with resources to make informed vino selections. This, in turn, ignited an entrepreneurial spirit within James that has propelled her career, inspiring her to work to help others hoping to create a successful startup.
She’s been back home in HawaiÊ»i for a few years now, after living and working in Silicon Valley for 11. Hesitant at first about how she would apply her expertise in the islands, James initially launched Hawaii Apps, a company that created mobile apps for local businesses.
“…I really did feel I could bring something back to HawaiÊ»i that I had learned being in the Bay Area and being in the startup world,” she says.
Today, she works as head of new ventures with Sultan Ventures (sultanventures.com), a consulting firm that works with entrepreneurs and investors. James has long been friends with Sultan Ventures’ managing partners, and felt she and the company shared similar missions and visions. As head of new ventures, James works with existing portfolio projects and also has the opportunity to create new ventures as well. “As an entrepreneur, this is what gets me excited the most,” she says.
When she isn’t in the office, James maintains a busy schedule with alma mater Cornell University as an entrepreneur in residence with its Pillsbury Institute for Entrepreneurship. Along with access to resources there, James maintains office hours with students enrolled in the program, and participates in classes online and in person.
Locally, James also serves as president of Hawaii Venture Capital Association. One of HawaiÊ»i’s oldest organizations, HVCA (hvca.org) also seeks to foster entrepreneurship within HawaiÊ»i through educational and networking opportunities.
James, who left HawaiÊ»i to seek better professional opportunities on the mainland, hopes that the growth of the startup community here broadens the ability for success in the islands.
“We keep talking about: ‘Kama’aina come home,'” she says. “It’s like, ‘Kama’aina come home’—they need to have something to do that they actually want to do.
“That, to me, is a lot of the driving force behind me being motivated with what I do.”