Hawaii State Trade and Export Promotion (HiSTEP) Program

On Thursday, October 15, 2015, the Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration Maria Contreras-Sweet formally announced the awarding of $750,000 to the State of Hawaii for the SBA’s State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) Program and presented a check to Governor David Ige during a special event at the Foreign Trade Zone No. 9.  

Several Hawaii businesses that have benefitted from STEP-funded programs were on hand to hear the announcement.  Three companies – Leolani Ukulele, Hawaiian Chip Company, and R.P. Delio and Company – shared their experiences of how they are utilizing the STEP and other SBA programs to help expand their business outside of Hawaii.  Other companies in attendance included Bubble Shack Hawaii, Hawaii Biotech, JAMS World, Sky Dreams, and The Tea Chest.

SBA started the STEP Program in FY 2011 as a three-year pilot program with a goal to increase the number of small businesses that want to export as well as the value of exports for those small businesses that currently export. SBA awards matching-funds STEP grants to states on a competitive basis.  

Hawaii’s State Trade and Export Promotion Program, known as HiSTEP, is built on a multifaceted approach that begins with comprehensive export assistance, readiness, counseling and training that leads into a menu of targeted activities designed to generate new export sales for participating small businesses from key industry sectors.  The program is administered by DBEDT who partners with several agencies and organizations to carry out the HiSTEP program.  These partners include the Hawaii Pacific Export Council, U.S. Commercial Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, Small Business Development Centers, SBA Hawaii District Office, Hawaii Department of Agriculture, and the Foreign Trade Zone No. 9.  

Hawaii previously received two STEP grant awards totaling over $1.1 million.  Matched with state funds and in-kind support of over $500,000, these funds helped 202 companies and supported programs that generated export sales of over $26 million for these Hawaii companies in the fashion and apparel, gift and consumer products, ag and value-added products, and biotechnology industries. This level of export sales creates an economic impact of over $41 million; generates $1.7 million in state taxes; and creates 273 jobs in Hawaii.

The current award will be used to expand the HiSTEP program to reach more Hawaii small businesses and help them grow their exports through 1) export training, mentoring, and technical assistance programs; 2) a menu of targeted marketing activities designed to generate new and increased export sales for participating small businesses, such as trade shows, sales calls, buyer and trade missions, and retailer promotions; and 3) a financial assistance program to provide funds directly into the hands of Hawaii firms to help implement portions of their export marketing plans (e.g., attend trade shows that are not part of the HiSTEP calendar, travel to multiple buyer meetings, participate in the Gold Key Service, and translate website or promotional materials).


Companies desiring to participate in any of the STEP activities must:

  1. Meet the federal requirements of an ‘eligible small business concern’ (meet size standards, one year in business, profitable, understand costs associated w/exporting, have export plan)
  2. Certify that the company is not barred from receiving federal funds
  3. Be registered in good standing with the State Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs’ Business Registration Division
  4. Have a current general excise tax license with the State Department of Taxation


HiSTEP and its partners have planned the following activities:

  • Export readiness sessions to prepare new and existing exporters to participate in the HiSTEP Program activities. Forums and workshops will be conducted by the U.S. Export Assistance Center, and the Hawaii Pacific Export Council and the Small Business Development Centers.
  • Trade missions to Japan, China and Korea
  • Planning Hawaii Pavilions at several upcoming tradeshow events:
    • at the 2016 Tokyo International Gift Fair
    • at the 2016 Las Vegas Souvenir and Resort Gift Show
    • at the 2016 Surf Expo
    • at the 2016 FOODEX in Tokyo
    • at the 2016 International Food Ingredients and Additives Show in Tokyo
    • at the 2016 Gulfood Show in Dubai