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Founder & CEO, Malu Productions, Inc.


YWahine In Business Financial Accelerator participant

Michelle Ake’s journey from a passionate dancer and educator to the successful Founder & CEO of Malu Productions, Inc. is nothing short of inspiring. Her story is a testament to the power of pursuing one’s passion, overcoming challenges, and continuously learning and adapting in the ever-evolving landscape of business.

With an extensive background in education, including a master’s in special education, Michelle had an impressive 20-year teaching career. However, her love for dance and performance as a professional entertainer since the tender age of 13 never waned. What started as a summer project in response to invitations to perform in Japan eventually evolved into a thriving entertainment business. The accidental inception of Malu Productions in 1998 marked the beginning of a new chapter in Michelle’s life.

The first decade of Malu Productions was filled with extensive international travel, showcasing the company’s performances throughout Asia and Europe. In 2008, the company reached a turning point when Michelle secured a federal contract with the Hale Koa Hotel. She resigned from teaching in 2013, dedicating herself full-time to her company; however, she has found that the intersection of being an educator and a business owner is both unique and beneficial.

“If you want to learn how to run a business, be a classroom teacher,” Michelle said, noting that her background in education plays a crucial role in shaping Malu Production’s success as the skills she honed in managing diverse students with varying abilities, backgrounds, and personalities has prepared her well for the challenges of running a business.

Michelle’s commitment to professionalism, consistency, and a robust training program for her team has set the company apart in the competitive entertainment industry. The business continues to flourish, maintaining long-standing relationships with major clients like Norwegian Cruise Line, spanning over a decade. Michelle’s hands-on approach, accessibility to clients, and the strength of the training program have all contributed to the sustained success of the company.

The impact of COVID-19 in 2020 prompted Michelle to shift her focus to the business side of Malu Productions. She began asking herself, “How do we make this more sustainable? How do we make this last another 25 years?” This shift led her to discover resources like the Small Business Administration (SBA) and YWCA Oʻahu, helping her tap into valuable support networks and educational opportunities. Michelle’s commitment to continuous learning is evident as she explores various programs, including SBA’s Emerging Leaders, the Patsy T. Mink Center for Business & Leadership’s Wahine Rising, Central Pacific Bank’s WE by Rising Tide, and most recently, the YWahine In Business Financial Accelerator.

Guided by Mariko Gordon in the accelerator program, Michelle has realized the importance of understanding her business financials, even though she consults with a CPA. “I’m looking at my financials at least once every two weeks,” she shared. Michelle also appreciates Mariko’s skill in reinforcing crucial concepts, making the learning process feel seamless and natural. “I need to know my numbers and be aware of what they mean and what they represent. Thank goodness for these opportunities to keep learning. I want to be excellent at it. My comfort level has increased, but I want to get to that expert level,” she added.

Reflecting on her journey, Michelle acknowledges the entrepreneurial challenges she faced as a woman of color and a first-generation college graduate, particularly around overcoming her own limiting beliefs. Although she prefers not to get too deep into her background, Michelle is most proud of not allowing her “lack of” to keep her from pursuing her dreams. “I feel proud that I was able to pioneer this for my family and build a generational business that can overcome the challenges that my family faced,” she said. “I’m proud that I didn’t allow my childhood or my background to stop me from achieving my goals.”

As Michelle plans for the future, she envisions expanding Malu Productions to other islands. Additionally, she hopes to establish a nonprofit organization to address the decline in performing arts education. Michelle’s commitment to community service is also evident in her goal of encouraging her employees to contribute to local causes.

To her fellow woman entrepreneurs and small business owners, Michelle offers the following advice: “You’ve got to feel good about what you’re doing—the product or service you’re providing has to resonate with you. Don’t start a business just because it generates money because I don’t know how much joy you can find in that. If you know that you're doing something that changes lives or impacts people, whether it’s providing income to people or employment, you’ll find your passion and joy in what you’re doing. And with that, everything will follow through; you can be successful. I truly believe that you can make a business with your passion. But on the real nuts and bolts, so many people want to start a business because they just don’t want to be employed by somebody else. So many people want to start a business because they don't want a boss. I just want them all to know you have to be ready to work a lot. You have to be ready to play all roles, you have to do everything until you can afford to hire people and be ready for that. And if you’re going to be a business owner, be a lifelong learner."

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