Shidler alumnus providing Hawai‘i businesses and community with resources

Evan Leong and Buddy work on production
Evan Leong and son Buddy work on the production of one of the webinar episodes

Leong assembles family, friends and teams to help Hawai‘i employers

Evan Leong, EMBA ’05, is using fundamental skills that he learned during his time at Shidler College to help Hawai‘i through the COVID-19 crisis.

Evan Leong

Evan with sons Koko, left, and Buddy, right

“Professor Jack Suyderhoud taught us the basics of supply and demand and that’s what I’m focusing on during this crisis,” Leong said. “There is so much demand for help, leadership, clarity and support. All I’m doing is looking for the best ways to fill that demand.”

Leong said that February looked like the continuation of another record breaking year for his businesses, Brain Gain Hawaii and Bubble Tea Supply. However, COVID-19 put a halt to that path in early March and Leong decided to shift his focus to helping the community. 

First things first 
His first effort included his 17-year-old son, Buddy Leong. Together, they coordinated with Cathy Ross, MBA ‘07, to help the state source personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies for medical professionals. Seeing a worldwide supply shortage and that Hawai‘i was having a hard time procuring these supplies, the group acted. “We need to keep our frontline medical heroes protected along with stopping community spread,” Evan Leong said.

“COVID-19 has our team working around the clock and the extra help from Evan Leong and Buddy Leong could not have come at a better time,” Ross said. “They were able to find and introduce us to sources we did not have access to otherwise”

Working to reverse the numbers
As the year continued, island businesses were closing and unemployment skyrocketed from 2% to the 37% as it stands today. On March 27, the federal government launched the $2 trillion CARES ACT economic relief package for small businesses to survive and keep employees on the payroll. 

Leong teamed up with his brother and Hawai‘i employment law expert, Darin Leong, along with Stacey Katakura, president of Accumulus, Jeff Harris, a name partner at Torkildson and Jane Sawyer, district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration. Together, they launched a project to help get the word out about the relief package. 

“These funds can be the lifeline that can keep Hawai‘i businesses afloat and people employed,” Evan Leong said. “We named the effort ‘Save Hawai‘i Jobs and Businesses’ with the goal of helping local employers obtain as much of the federal funding as possible.”

The volunteer team launched a twice weekly webinar series and updated memos focused on helping Hawai‘i employers understand and navigate the confusing and constantly changing Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) initiatives. The free webinars are designed to help viewers navigate through the latest information on the federal CARES Act

The webinars feature experts from Hawai‘i’s business community and congressional team, who have dedicated countless hours to the project. His two sons, Buddy and  Koko, helped on the technical side by setting up and running webinars, YouTube Channel, podcast, social media accounts, communications and Google Drive folder of resources

Their effort helped Hawai‘i companies obtain more than $2 billion of PPP funds and rank fourth for loan amount as a percentage of eligible payroll. Although the first round of funding ran out on April 16, the team has since received more than 100 messages of thanks and appreciation from Hawai‘i employers. 

“Thank you so much for hosting these informative webinars,” said Kristine Kratschmer, director of human resources for Trilogy Excursions. “They’ve provided some much needed clarity and calmness. The presenters are very professional and I look forward to listening in on the webinars every week.”

“We can’t even begin to express our gratitude for your role in saving small businesses and nonprofits in Hawaii,” Carolyn Wright, chief operating officer at Maui Academy of Performing Arts, said. “I’m pretty sure that you all are the reason for a huge chunk of the money being distributed to Hawaii’s small businesses right now.”

Where do we go from here?
Some closed businesses are left with an interesting dilemma after receiving PPP funding and having workers on payroll with not much to do. 

“We suggest pairing up workers with community efforts that are in dire need of skilled volunteers,” Evan Leong said. “For example, if the restaurant is still closed, let the workers help a community effort making food and delivering to kupuna and keiki. If the construction job is on hold, there are community building projects that need help.”

Anyone interested in volunteering can fill out this form.

Mental health is just as important 
Knowing that the stay at home order, business closures and unemployment are having a large detrimental effect on community mental health, Evan teamed up with UH alumna Trisha Kajimura, MA ’96, MPH, ‘11, and longtime Hawaii Public Radio host Beth-Ann Kozlovich to provide support. 

The volunteer team launched “Anxiety to Clarity,” a video series, podcast and support services through a collaboration between Sutter Health Kahi Mohala, Mental Health USA Hawaii and Brain Gain Hawaii. The weekly series features special guests like Dr. Martin Johnson talking about dealing with grief and loss, Dr. Nikki Moravec on couple relationships and Dr. Adam Coles on family dynamics. 

More to come
Leong says that along with the business education and skills he obtained during his time at Shidler College, he also developed a sense of community service. He has a few more initiatives coming soon so be sure to keep an eye out!