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Starting a business in Hawaii can seem daunting with its complex regulations and isolated location far from the continental US. But the Aloha State offers incredible natural beauty and a welcoming community that draws entrepreneurs from around the world.

If you have an idea for a exciting new venture, Hawaii may be the perfect place to turn your dream into reality.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: research your business structure, create a business plan tailored to Hawaii, obtain necessary licenses and permits, find affordable commercial space, hire talented staff, market to locals and tourists.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover all the key steps and considerations for launching your Hawaii-based business, from choosing a legal entity to marketing to the right demographics. Read on for tips from current business owners in Hawaii as well as breakdowns of startup costs, regulations, and other critical information.

Choose the Right Business Structure for Hawaii

Sole Proprietorship

A sole proprietorship is the simplest and most common business structure in Hawaii. It involves one individual owning and operating the business. The business owner will have total control over the business operations and claim all profits.

However, they will also be personally liable for all debts and obligations related to the business.


A partnership involves two or more people operating a business together and sharing profit, loss and liability. There are two common types: general partnerships where all partners participate equally and limited partnerships where some partners have limited liability.

Partnerships allow pooling of resources, skills and experience and may be preferred by professionals like lawyers and accountants.

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

A limited liability company (LLC) combines benefits of a sole proprietorship and a partnership. LLC owners (members) have limited personal liability and enjoy tax efficiencies of a partnership. An LLC in Hawaii only requires one member and can elect to be taxed as a sole proprietorship, partnership or corporation.

With flexible structuring options, LLCs are among the most popular business entities in Hawaii.

S Corporation

An S corporation is a special tax status elected by an eligible domestic corporation. It allows business income and losses to bypass corporate tax and directly pass to the shareholders. To form an S corporation in Hawaii, articles of incorporation need to be filed.

S corps offer liability protection but require meeting legal requirements related to ownership structure, number of shareholders etc.

C Corporation

A C corporation is the standard corporation structure involving formation of a separate legal entity with ownership divided into transferrable shares of stock. A C corp offers robust personal liability protection for shareholders but leads to double taxation on profits.

To form a corporation in Hawaii, articles of incorporation need to be filed with accompanying fees.


To operate a nonprofit in Hawaii, articles of incorporation need to be filed with proof of the nonprofit purpose. Nonprofits cannot distribute net earnings to individuals but offer tax exemptions. Types of nonprofits include charitable, religious, scientific and literary organizations.

They can be a great choice for social enterprises and organizations providing community services.

Create a Targeted Business Plan

Creating a strong business plan is a crucial first step when starting a company in Hawaii. This detailed document outlines key elements of your business to prove feasibility to potential investors and partners.

Tailor the plan specifically to launching in Hawaii by including relevant data on the local market, economy, regulations, and more.

Executive Summary

The executive summary briefly overviews the key points of your entire business plan. Summarize details like your company description, target market in Hawaii, competitive advantages, management team, projected profitability, and funding requirements.

This section hooks investors by showing them an overview of the proposed business venture in Hawaii.

Company Description

Use the company description to expand on your business concept and how it will operate in Hawaii. Outline important factors like:

  • Company mission and objectives
  • Business structure – LLC, S-corp, partnership, sole proprietorship
  • Products and services offered
  • Facilities and operations in Hawaii

Market Analysis and Marketing Plan

Conduct thorough market research focused specifically on Hawaii to prove demand for your product/service and viability of your marketing plan. Gather relevant local data and statistics to showcase details like:

Target consumer demographics Competing companies
Pricing strategies Media outreach channels
Sales projections Promotional ideas

Operations Plan

The operations plan explains how your business will function day-to-day in Hawaii. Define details like:

  • Necessary Hawaii licenses and permits
  • Hiring local staff
  • Suppliers/vendors in Hawaii
  • Daily workflows
  • Technology needs

Thoroughly mapping out operations in Hawaii establishes practical execution of your entrepreneurial venture.

Handle Licensing, Permits, and Legal Compliance

Register Your Business

One of the first steps when starting a business in Hawaii is to register it with the state. You’ll need to file documents like articles of incorporation or organization if you are creating an LLC or corporation. The Business Registration Division handles company registrations.

Sole proprietors and general partnerships can register their business names by filing a Certificate of Trade Name with the Business Registration Division. This helps prevent another business from using your trade name. The cost to file is $50 every 5 years.

Obtain a General Excise Tax License

Hawaii state law requires all businesses earn income in Hawaii to pay a general excise tax (GET). You’ll need to complete a GET license application form and pay a one-time $20 registration fee.

The GET tax rate can vary from 0.15% to 4.712% depending on your type of business activity. You may also need to collect and pay additional taxes for goods and services provided in Hawaii.

Research Additional Licenses and Permits

Depending on your type of business, you may need professional or county permits and state licenses. For example, contractors need licenses issued by the Contractors License Board. Consult the Business Action Center to identify other Hawaii permits or licenses relevant to your business.

Comply with Zoning Regulations

If you will operate out of a physical commercial location, research zoning ordinances in the county and city to ensure your property is properly zoned for business use. You may be required to obtain zoning confirmation or submit permit applications.

Meet Employment and Insurance Requirements

If hiring employees, you must follow Hawaii labor laws for issues like overtime, minimum wage, and break requirements. Depending on your industry, you may need to carry workers’ compensation or other business insurance policies.

Hawaii also requires employers to pay unemployment insurance taxes and temporary disability insurance contributions through quarterly tax filings.

Find the Right Commercial Location and Space

Choosing the right commercial location and space is crucial when starting a business in Hawaii. Here are some tips to help you make the best decision:

Conduct Thorough Research

Conduct in-depth research on potential locations before signing any lease. Consider foot traffic, visibility, parking, accessibility, nearby amenities, competition, zoning laws, etc. Drive around neighborhoods at different times to observe customer volume.

Vetting locations thoroughly upfront saves major headaches down the road.

Get Input from Experts

Consult commercial real estate agents, small business advocates, and other entrepreneurs for advice on the best areas and spaces to consider. Local experts often have invaluable insights into commercial real estate market conditions, consumer traffic patterns, and growth opportunities in different islands and neighborhoods.

Consider Accessibility

Easy access and visibility generate more customers. Prioritize locations near public transportation hubs, main roads, highways, hotels, tourist destinations, etc. High-traffic retail centers allow capturing impulse shoppers. For office-based businesses, choose modern buildings near employee population hubs with ample parking.

Evaluate Infrastructure

Evaluate electrical systems, HVAC, plumbing, internet connectivity, etc. when touring spaces. Tenant improvement allowances from landlords sometimes assist with infrastructure costs. Discuss build-out needs with commercial contractors early on.

Consider Expansion Capabilities

If major growth is expected, consider spaces allowing future expansion like additional retail units or upstairs offices. Landlords often provide right of first refusal on adjacent spaces. This allows businesses to expand operations without moving.

Examine Zoning Regulations

Before committing, have zoning experts review all relevant ordinances impacting proposed locations. Each island and city has unique zoning codes pertaining to signage, minimum parking, permitted business activities, etc.

Negotiate Win-Win Lease Terms

Hire a commercial real estate lawyer to negotiate favorable lease terms before signing any agreements. Fair compromises on rent rates, yearly increases, tenant improvement allowances, utilities, maintenance responsibilities, options to renew, termination policies, etc.

create win-win partnerships with landlords.

By properly researching locations, consulting local experts, evaluating infrastructure, and negotiating favorable lease terms, Hawaii entrepreneurs position new ventures for success right out of the gate.

Build Your Hawaii-Based Staff

Building a strong local staff is key to succeeding with a Hawaii-based business. Here are some tips for hiring and retaining talented employees in Hawaii:

Understand Hawaii’s Job Market

Hawaii has a unique job market with some distinct advantages and challenges. On the plus side, Hawaii residents tend to be very loyal employees who appreciate the lifestyle and culture of the islands. However, turnover can be higher than the mainland US due to Hawaii’s transient population.

Be prepared to invest in recruiting and training local talent.

Offer Competitive Compensation

While salaries in Hawaii may be lower than some mainland metro areas, the cost of living is very high. Offering competitive pay and benefits is essential to attracting and retaining good employees. Make sure your compensation packages reflect Hawaii’s high costs for housing, food, transportation, etc.

Highlight Lifestyle Perks

One effective strategy for recruitment and retention in Hawaii is promoting the unparalleled lifestyle. Emphasize work-life balance, proximity to beaches and outdoor activities, and the welcoming aloha culture.

Consider letting employees work flexible schedules to enjoy more of what makes Hawaii so special.

Source Locally

Networking and sourcing candidates from local professional associations, colleges, and talent pools can be more effective than recruiting from the mainland US. Partner with local schools and nonprofits to find up-and-coming Hawaiian talent.

Attend job fairs and community events to get your brand out there.

Support Professional Development

Offering training, mentoring, and advancement opportunities can boost loyalty and tenure. Many local employees appreciate chances to develop new skills rather than just punching the clock. And supporting continuing education related to Hawaii industries is a great retention tool.

Building an exceptional local team is challenging but rewarding for Hawaii businesses. By offering robust compensation and benefits, playing up the lifestyle advantages, sourcing locally, and investing in skill growth, you can assemble a staff that feels like ohana.

Market Effectively to Local Residents and Tourists

When starting a business in Hawaii, it is crucial to develop an effective marketing strategy that targets both local residents and the millions of tourists that visit the islands each year. Here are some tips for reaching these important demographics:

Local Residents

The state of Hawaii has a population of around 1.4 million full-time residents. To connect with locals:

  • Advertise in local Hawaiian newspapers and magazines
  • Create engaging social media campaigns on platforms popular in Hawaii like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube
  • Sponsor local events and causes that residents care about
  • Offer special discounts and loyalty programs for kamaʻāina (local) customers
  • Make sure your business gives back to the local community through donations, fundraisers, etc.


Hawaii welcomes over 10 million visitors from around the world every year. To tap into this lucrative market:

  • List your business on travel booking sites like Expedia and TripAdvisor
  • Partner with hotels and rental car companies to offer discounts or packages to guests
  • Advertise at popular tourist destinations like Waikiki Beach, Volcanoes National Park, Pearl Harbor, etc.
  • Create an engaging website with beautiful images and clear information about your offerings, location, and hours
  • Focus marketing campaigns around peak travel seasons in Hawaii like summer and major holidays

No matter who you are trying to reach, it is key to craft marketing messages that align with Hawaii’s relaxed, friendly culture focused on ʻohana (family) and aloha spirit. Show locals and visitors alike why your business is a special part of the islands!


Starting a new business in Hawaii comes with unique opportunities and challenges. By carefully researching legal structures, creating a targeted business plan, obtaining necessary licenses, securing affordable space, hiring talented staff, and marketing to the right demographics, you can set your Hawaii-based venture up for success.

Hawaii offers stunning natural scenery, an inviting island lifestyle, and streams of enthusiastic tourists year-round. Tap into this built-in customer base by emphasizing what makes your business uniquely Hawaiian.

Build community partnerships and get involved locally to become part of the islands’ ohana network.

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