Born-and-raised Hawai‘i locals Anthony Mau and Steven Yee received their degrees from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources in 2019 and 2015, respectively. Anthony’s PhD in molecular biosciences and bioengineering and Steven’s BS in tropical plant and soil sciences laid the pathway for a creative and successful business venture. Kupu Place LLC is an urban farm in Honolulu growing aquaponics lettuce and leafy greens, microgreens, and edible flowers.
During the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown, Hawai‘i’s small businesses have seen some big changes and obstacles. We asked Anthony and Steven about Kupu Place and how they are managing to find silver linings and success during the lockdown.
What inspired you to start your own business?
We are local kids who grew up in Hawai‘i. As cousins who grew up doing everything together, we decided to go into business together, and we were both in agriculture. Interestingly enough, we were on opposite ends of the spectrum with our interests – Anthony studying Aquaculture and Steven doing horticulture. In 2017, we decided to start our business focusing on aquaponic lettuce production, the perfect interlinkage between aquaculture and horticulture.
What do you love most about your work?
We both love the idea of growing food for our community. It makes us feel good about the direction of our work, and the honest integrity and commitment it takes to be a farmer beyond the hobby level. We love the challenges and problem solving involved in running a business. It requires both creativity (art) and science to do what we do.
We also love the excuse of waking up early, drinking coffee on the farm, and enjoying the sunrise around the plants and animals.
What’s been the most rewarding aspect of starting your own business? The most challenging?
The most rewarding aspect of starting our business is being able to connect with a ton of people. We love making peoples day, and providing something fresh for their family. We think the challenge has been, and always will be, growing unique varietals and maintaining a level of quality that make the farm stand out from others.
How has your UH education helped you in your career?
Steven received a BS in TPSS and started two businesses (Mala Organics LLC and Kupu Place LLC). He worked for Dr. Radovich at the Waimanalo Ag Research Station, and has applied all of the technical knowledge he learned as both a student and SOAP technician.
Anthony received a PhD in MBBE focusing on aquaculture of ‘opihi. At the time of his studies, he was able to connect with the Ag Incubator Program (now Go Farm), entered start-up business competitions held at Shidler School of Business, and conducted innovative research. All of these unique experiences have shaped the philosophies of Kupu Place.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed your day-to-day operations?
We suddenly lost all of our restaurant accounts (RIGO, ARVO, Piggy Smalls, Pig & The Lady, Mud Hen Water, Mahina & Suns, and Bernini). We had to shift our business towards the house-hold buyers’ market, a market that was not proven until recently. Fortunately, we were able to apply to the COVID Emergency Relief Fund, which helped us financially during this shift. Currently, we do both curb-side pickup and delivery in Honolulu. We also created a company website which household buyers can utilize to order produce each week. Interestingly enough, with all of the COVID-19 issues that occurred, we have seen an increase in demand and overall business – a true blessing! With our CTAHR community behind us, we hope to continue to grow our business and take it to another level.