Featured Speakers


Grant Verry

Chief Executive, The FOODBOWL

The FOODBOWL is part of the New Zealand Food Innovation Network (NZFIN), a national network of open access processing facilities created to support New Zealand’s food and beverage industry in accelerating innovation of high value products.

NZFIN is a network of interconnected innovation hubs that enable New Zealand’s food and beverage industry to take novel ideas through the journey of research and development, laboratory scale testing, pilot scale production and commercial manufacturing.

The FOODBOWL is equipped with leading processing technologies and over 300 pieces of ancillary equipment available on demand in any of the seven independent manufacturing suites. It is designed to meet the needs of New Zealand’s frontier firms, assist small and medium size enterprise expansion, and support visionary start-up growth.
NZFIN operates for industry, with industry, and is deeply connected into New Zealand’s broader food and beverage ecosystem, connecting businesses to accelerate their success and the overall growth of the New Zealand food and beverage economy.


Poni Askew

Co-founder, Hawaiian Vinegar & Spice Company

Poni Askew, the driving force behind Hawaiian Vinegar & Spice Company, is dedicated to transforming Hawai’i’s agricultural landscape. In 2019, with husband Brandon Askew, she founded the company to combat local food waste, enhance Hawaii’s food self-sufficiency, and contribute to rural economic development. At the heart of their enterprise, Hawaiian Vinegar & Spice Company passionately rescues off-grade and seasonally fresh produce from local farmers, transforming it into world-class tropical vinegar & spice products.

Poni’s entrepreneurial journey extends beyond Hawaiian Vinegar; she and Brandon are the visionaries behind Street Grindz, orchestrating events like Eat the Street and Honolulu Night Market to champion Hawai’i’s entrepreneurs. Rooted in experiences with small food businesses, they identified a pressing need to support local farmers and the food economy.

In December 2022, the duo opened a vinegar brewery and tasting room named “The Vinegary” in Wahiawā Town, where Poni grew up. Since then, they’ve partnered with over 12 local farms, rescuing nearly 10,000 pounds of produce in under 14 months. Poni’s commitment extends beyond decreasing imports and fostering the success of Hawai’i’s farmers; it includes providing vital solutions for job opportunities in Wahiawa Town, O’ahu, rekindling economic prospects lost with the closure of Dole in the late 1980s.

Poni completed Leeward Community College’s ‘Aina 2 Makeke program and Hawai’i Ag & Culinary Alliance’s® (HACA) From Cottage Industry to Commercial Enterprise Program in 2023. She also was named the winner of the inaugural HACA Food Innovation Pitch Fest held in Fall 2023, securing funds to scale-up vinegar production equipment and increase production capacity.


Matt Hong

Co-founder, Banán

Matt Hong is a co-founder of Banán, a small chain of Hawai’i health cafes that turn bananas into dairy-free soft-serve. Banán strives to kick added sugar from consumer diets while sourcing as many ingredients locally as possible. Banán has peeled over 750,000 pounds of Hawai’i grown bananas to date. 


Kūhiō Lewis

CEO, Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement

Kūhiō Lewis is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA), a non-profit organization established in 2001 with a mission to culturally, economically, and politically develop the Hawaiian community.

Under Lewis’ leadership, CNHA has transformed from an organization that serves Hawaiians to a Hawaiian serving organization. During his tenure, the organization’s annual budget has grown significantly, from $3.1 million in 2019 to $90 million in 2022. CNHA now employs nearly 100 individuals across the state.

Lewis brings a wealth of experience in organizational management within the non-profit industry. Prior to joining CNHA, he spent eight years with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and four years at the Kapolei Community Development Corporation. His expertise lies in non-profit organizations, government relations, fundraising, and policy analysis. As the head of one of the State’s most influential and impactful non-profits, Lewis has proven himself to be a skilled and effective leader.

Lewis holds a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Public Administration from the University of Hawai‘i-West O‘ahu and takes pride in being a single father. His contributions and achievements have been recognized through numerous awards, including Hawaii’s most admired leaders, 20 for the next 20, 40 under 40, and Hawaii Power leader of 2023.


Carlos G. Peñaloza

Ph.D , Chancellor, Leeward Community College

Dr. Carlos Peñaloza became the 12th chancellor at Leeward Community College of the University of Hawaii in 2019. He is a community college graduate, and earned his Associates, Bachelors, Masters, and Doctorate degrees from the City University of New York.

Dr. Peñaloza held academic leadership positions at Saint Luke’s College of Health Sciences and the Metropolitan Community College in Kansas City, Missouri, as well as other teaching and administrative positions in New York for the State University of New York, Briarcliffe College, and the City University of New York.

His academic background is in the biomedical sciences, where his research focused primarily in understanding molecular events leading to sex differences in stress response. Dr. Peñaloza published in the fields of sex genetics and cell death; and his scientific contributions have resulted in awards from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.
He is a member of several academic organizations, including Sigma Xi, the Organization for the Study of Sex Differences, American Association of Community Colleges, and the International Cell Death Society.

Dr. Peñaloza’s personal and professional focus have been to promote students’ success and upward financial mobility.

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