starting a business in hawaii

A complete step-by-step guide to start your business and get on the fast track to financial success.

Doing Business In Hawaii

Business Facts

Tourism is the top industry in the state of Hawaii. Centrally located between the U.S. and Japan, Hawaii entertains tourists from around the world. People visit the state to enjoy the vast beaches and pleasant climate. The island of Oahu, also home to Waikiki Beach, is considered the main tourist area. 

Defense is a large part of Hawaii’s economy. Several Army, Navy, Marine, Coast Guard, and Air Force bases are located in the state. With so many military personnel stationed in the state, the government also has its own military newspapers, golf courses, and accommodations for its employees. 

Manufacturing is another strong industry in Hawaii and is primarily concentrated on Oahu Island. Products being produced include apparel and cotton-based products that are exported off the island. 

The service industry thrives in Hawaii, including hotels, private healthcare, finance, and real estate. 

Small Business and Startup Environment

Hawaii has 105,242 small businesses, according to the most current federal data available. 

Of those 105,242 small businesses in Hawaii, 28,844 have employees. The remaining 76,398 are Hawaii small businesses that have no employees.

The state is buoying the startup movement by dedicating creative resources to building a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem in the islands. Recruiting players through the Hawai‘i Strategic Development Corporation (HSDC) and further developing the equity investment program HI Growth Initiative are two of those avenues for growth. Stakeholders in Hawai‘i’s innovation center like the Hawai‘i Venture Capital Association (HVCA), XLR8UH, Blue Startups, Energy Excelerator, Startup Capital Ventures, Pacific Asian Center for Entrepreneurship and StartupHawai‘i have joined forces to create Startup Paradise, a new branding effort to promote the local venture capital industry. 

Step 1: Choose A Business Structure

The most common business structures are sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), and a few different types of corporations—the standard corporation (often called a C corporation or “C corp”), the small business corporation (often called an S corporation or “S corp”), and the benefit corporation (often called a B corporation or “B corp”).

The most common business structures are:

Happens when you operate your business as yourself. There is no separate legal entity created; the law treats you and your business as one person. You are responsible and personally liable for all business activities or wrongdoing.

The same thing as a Sole Proprietorship, but just with 2 or more people. Like a Sole Proprietorship, a Partnership doesn’t create a separate legal entity and the partners are responsible and personally liable for any business activity or wrongdoing.

A more complex legal structure that requires a board of directors, corporate officers, and shareholders. Corporations don’t usually work for most small business owners since they face double taxation. Corporations can be beneficial to companies that are looking to raise capital investment, take the company public, or have large healthcare expenses for their employees. The most common types of companies that form Corporations are high-growth technology and startup companies.

Unlike a Sole Proprietorship or a Partnership, a Corporation is a separate legal entity from its owners (called shareholders). It provides them with personal liability protection.

A legal entity that combines the benefits of a Corporation and a Sole Proprietorship/Partnership.

An LLC in Hawaii is a separate legal entity under the law. And like a Corporation, it provides personal liability protection for the owners. If the LLC is sued, the owner’s personal assets – like their home, cars, and bank accounts – are protected. And like a Sole Proprietorship/Partnership, an LLC has pass-through taxation (so there’s no double taxation).

A Hawaii LLC is the most popular option and a good choice for people who want to run a small business for two reasons:

  • Personal liability protection (personal assets are kept safe)
  • No double taxation

Unlike a Sole Proprietorship (and a Partnership), your Hawaii LLC’s assets are separate and distinct from your personal assets. In the event your LLC gets sued, your personal assets are protected.

And unlike a Corporation, your LLC is not subject to double taxation. Instead, your LLC’s profits will “pass-through” to your personal tax return and federal taxes are paid just once.

Step 2: Choose The Right Business Name

Choosing a business name is important, you want to make it easier for your customers to remember it, here are some tips:

  1. Avoid hard-to-spell names.
  2. Don’t pick a name that could be limiting as your business grows.
  3. Conduct a thorough Internet search.
  4. Search and purchase a domain name.
  5. Use a name that conveys some meaning.
  6. Conduct a trademark search.

Step 3: Register Your Business

Depending on the business structure you chose you will need to register your business.

For Hawaii DBA (Doing Business As) go to:

Business Registration (BREG)

For Corporations go to:

For LLC’s go to:

Step 4: Obtain an EIN Tax Number

With limited exceptions, most businesses require an Employer Identification Number (EIN), also known as a Tax ID Number. An EIN is used to identify a business in its federal tax filings. Without an EIN, you can’t hire employees or open a business bank account.

Click Here to Apply for EIN number online

Step 5: Open A Bank Account

– Open a business bank account:

  • Separates your personal assets from your company’s assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
  • Makes accounting and tax filing easier.

– Get a business credit card:

  • Helps you separate personal and business expenses.
  • Builds your company’s credit history, which can be useful to raise capital later on.

Step 6: Licenses & Permits

Now that you’ve registered your business name you need to obtain a business license for your company – this authorizes your company to do business in your city or county. Typically this also involves registering for state taxes and permits (the city may require them as part of the business licensing process).

Here are some links for Hawaii Businesses:

Selling products? Check Hawaii Resale Permit

Business Licensing for the State of Hawaii

Step 7: Branding & Marketing

Your brand is the image customers have of your business, so it’s important to determine who is your audience and what is the message that you want to project. That way, your company’s image will be what you intend it to be. It should be strategic and intentional.

Step 8: Establish a Web Presence

Creating an optimized website helps you to gain important visibility for the right terms. A website is a powerful sales tool and one that allows you to address your customers’ concerns, give them the information they need to make a decision and create compelling calls to action.

In addition to a website, you should also consider other avenues for promoting your business online:

Join Local Networks

Resources for entrepeneurs in Hawaii 

Entrepeneurs Foundation of Hawaii 

Resources For Hawaii Entrepreneurs