Award recognizes community contributions

Molokai native Vaughn Vasconcellos – founder of the information technology company Akimeka in Kihei – is being recognized for his service to Native Hawaiian communities.

The Native Hawaiian and military veteran was selected to receive the 2013 ‘O’o Award by the Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce for providing a “lifetime contribution to strengthen our Native Hawaiian community, businesses and professions,” said chamber board member Denise Iseri-Matsubara in an email last week.

The award, established in 1976, is the highest honor the chamber can present and is typically given to two to three candidates each year. This year’s recipients to be honored Friday on Oahu include former Hawaii Gov. John D. Waihe’e III and Kamehameha Schools Chief Executive Officer Dee Jay Mailer.

Vaughn was selected for his “outstanding contributions to the Native Hawaiian community, especially in the field of technology on Maui,” Iseri-Matsubara said.

As the leader of the Alaka’ina Foundation, Vasconcellos helps create leadership and educational programs in science and technology for students. This includes operating two passenger buses donated by Maui Economic Opportunity that have been converted into “roving labs,” he said.

The Digital Buses have the latest technology and gadgets, including laptops, video cameras, global positioning systems and microscopes, and help stimulate kindergarten-to-12th grade students’ interest in science and technology.

“What we try to focus on is to get kids interested in technology,” he said in a phone interview Sunday. “So whenever schools go on a science project, we meet with them so they can use the equipment.

“That’s really the focus of our programs, especially for the public schools and to get them interested in technology.”

Raised by his grandmother on a Hawaiian homestead on Molokai, Vasconcellos said that he was a “product of public schools.” He attended Lincoln School and Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School on Oahu.

He would later graduate from Kamehameha Schools Kapalama and attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He served 14 years as an Army officer.

During his military service and later as a sales executive for IBM, Vasconcellos longed to come home and start his own business.

“There is no way you cannot come back home at some point,” he said. “This is where family is, so coming back home is something I was going to do anyways.

“Home is home.”

In 1996, he returned to Oahu and a year later founded Akimeka, an information technology services company that serves federal, state and local governments worldwide. The company expanded to Maui a few years later, where he established the core of the business. He placed offices in the Maui Research & Technology Park in Kihei.

Vasconcellos, 59, has received dozens of awards for the work of Akimeka – acquired in 2010 by another company – including from the U.S. Small Business Association and Pacific Business News.

Despite his accolades, working with communities and providing educational opportunities for Hawaii’s youth is what drives him, he said. He has a particular affinity for Native Hawaiians and underprivileged youths.

“I was one of those kids raised in an environment that was really simple,” he said. “It was one of those you don’t realize you’re poor until you get out of that environment.”

His work and interest in communities caught the attention of Native Hawaiian Chamber President Karl Baker.

“He’s not only successful businesswise but also has a values system for giving back to the community,” he said by phone Monday. “His personal values are off the charts. . . . He’s awesome.”

The annual event that will honor Vasconcellos and the other two recipients will be held from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Friday at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Coral Ballroom.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at