New way to book tours in Hawaii


By Meghan Miner Murray, HawaiiBusiness Magazine – December 2016

ORIGIN: Like many origin stories, Activiter’s started in Vegas. Stuck on the Strip in the heat of the day, the company’s co-founders – Rob Lafontaine and Ikaika Sheehan – decided to see a show (mostly for the air conditioning) and waited in a discount line for tickets. “Twenty minutes later, it had hardly moved,” says Lafontaine. They abandoned the line and their money in a cool casino.

“When we came home, we were sitting down at a coffee shop and were like: Man that really sucked. There’s got to be something here in Hawaii that lets you book (same-day activities) on your phone … something like Amazon’s ‘click to buy.’ ” There wasn’t.

EVOLUTION: So the duo taught themselves how to make a mobile app that allowed travelers to use their phones to book discounted, last-minute activities. They launched in December 2015. A few months in, under the guidance of Blue Startups’ incubator program, “We decided a mobile app … really wasn’t the best way for us,” says Lafontaine. They shifted to a website-embeddable digital concierge that sells tours and activities to a website’s existing audience.

LAUNCH 2.0: Their first partner distributor is Hawaii Business’ sister travel publication HAWAII Magazine. Activiter’s search engine for tours launched in November at and allows people to book ziplines, helicopter tours, shark-cage dives and more, without navigating too far from editorial content. Lafontaine says that Activiter’s seven-person team – including CTO Jordan Medeiros, an MIT grad – has taken its vision to reality.

Blue Hawaiian Helicopters’ director of sales and marketing, Meghan Lee, says Activiter is the first company whose software communicates with Blue Hawaiian’s reservation system to sell tours in real time. “I think these guys are going to be the ones that change the industry. They’re breaking barriers to make it simpler to book activities … They’re young, they’re adaptable, they’re tenacious,” Lee says.

Hawaii Governor Will Propose $10 Million of State Budget Be Used to Help Build Innovation Sector

By Kathryn Mykleseth, The Honolulu Advertiser – 12/13/2016



Gov. David Ige, source: flickr

Hawaii Gov. David Ige has pledged to propose $10 million of the state budget be used to help build the innovation sector.

Ige said he would request the funds be used for the state-run HI Growth Initiative, which was created to attract private investment to innovation in Hawaii.

“It really is about how we can encourage and invest in our people and our companies,” Ige said Monday as keynote speaker at a Hawaii Venture Capital Association luncheon focusing on a statewide startup collaboration called Startup Paradise.

Ige said he is committed to creating more innovation jobs to build career opportunities that young people want in the state.

“We all know the story of our children going away to college and never coming back,” Ige said. “It’s about stopping that brain drain. … That’s what Startup Paradise means to me.”

Ige said that to build a successful sector, the state needs to improve the quality of public education, and the government has to keep up with the changing community.

Meli James, head of new ventures at Honolulu investment firm Sultan Ventures, said a supportive government is vital to creating more opportunities for companies in the growing industry.

“Government support is crucial to the startup ecosystem,” she said.

Tarik Sultan, managing partner at Sultan Ventures, said the number of startups that are part of Hawaii’s Startup Paradise has grown exponentially. There are now 145 companies in the innovation community, up from 18 in 2012 when the collective effort to build an innovation sector in the state was launched.

“Startup Paradise has really taken off,” Sultan said. “Every year there is exponential growth, exponential momentum.”

Startup Paradise is a coalition of startup boot-camp programs, investment firms and co-working spaces in Hawaii seeking to promote and brand innovation in Hawaii. The coalition includes Blue Startups, Energy Excelerator, Sultan Ventures and the University of Hawaii’s startup program XLR8UH.

Sultan said that according to a survey of four accelerators in the state, startups created more than 1,000 jobs over the last four years and raised more than $251 million across the budding ecosystem.

James said in addition to HI Growth Initiative, investing in the University of Hawaii, Hawaii’s High Technology Development Corp. and the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii also would help the ecosystem thrive.

©2016 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Find free stopover vacations with AirWander flight search


By Josh Constine, TechCrunch – December 5, 2016

Flying to London? You could spend three days in Amsterdam on the way for free or cheap. That’s the promise of AirWander, a new flight search engine for the adventurous. AirWander finds you inexpensive stopovers — essentially multi-day layovers when you can explore a connecting city between other flights. It can also help you plan multi-city excursions, stringing several flights together on a trip around the world.

AirWander’s search engine launches today at the TechCrunch Disrupt London Startup Battlefield competition.

To use AirWander, just punch in your departure and final destination city. It then suggests stopover locations where it can save you a ton of money versus flying to the two places separately. AirWander provides several sets of flight options that you can click through to instantly book.

Alternatively, you can select a slew of cities and AirWander will find you the optimal route between them all. And if you just want to surrender to wanderlust, use the site’s “anywhere” option to receive recommendations for cheap but exciting vacations.

Typically, this kind of trip planning can require tons of research, searches, spreadsheets and price calculations to get the cheapest fares. There are whole blogs devoted to mastering the complicated practice. But AirWander could take the work and mystery out of galavanting across the globe.

AirWander’s founders built the product after enduring the effort of manually booking a trip around the world. After meeting at the Burning Man festival in 2013, Ela Bader and Douglas Deming spent seven months together backpacking through North and South America. They found with enough trial-and-error, they could hack the flight search process to score cheap stopovers. When they got back to San Francisco, they started building a tool to make it easy for anyone to travel like they did.

This wasn’t just a business opportunity, but a chance to dismantle barriers between the people of the world. Bader tells me “the more people travel, the more it contributes to the general prosperity of goodwill that people will have towards others as it breaks pre-judgment of others as well as teaches tolerance and openness.”

 Originally called QuestOrganizer, the startup participated in Spain’s Bolt accelerator, and then took a $25,000 seed investment from Hawaii’s Blue Startups accelerator. It reached 150,000 users. But now their team of eight has rebuilt their technology for scale and are launching it today as AirWander. The company earns referral fees from airlines for sending them customers.

Next, AirWander plans to add user accounts so people can sign up for price alerts when a trip they want goes on sale. The startup will also be raising a new round of funding to pay for AdWords and Facebook ads to push growth. AirWander will have to battle it out with other specialty flight search apps like Kiwi for combining multiple airlines, as well as comparison engines such as Hipmunk, Dohop, Skyscanner and Kayak.

AirWander is still a bit rough around the edges. It could do a better job of communicating its core value add around stopovers, and give examples of exactly how people save money on bonus vacations. While travel gurus might get the concept, novice adventurers will need more education on the beauty of stopovers for AirWander to become a mainstream hit. It will also need mobile apps to keep up with its competitors.

The air travel industry still lacks transparency. Travel companies and airlines take advantage of how complicated the booking process seems. But with a little backend technology doing the laborious comparisons, services like AirWander can unlock a new way to fly. The more of the world you see, the more compassion you develop for the rest of humanity, and the more perspective you have on how to contribute.