Owner & Principal Engineer, Kokoro Engineering LLC
Business and financial counseling client
Kokoro means “heart” in Japanese, and that’s at the center of what Staci Taniguchi believes and practices as the owner and principal engineer of Kokoro Engineering LLC. “I work on projects that are in alignment with what I want to work on. Everything I take on is something I want to do,” she explained. “There’s so much work out there and so many engineering firms, I’d rather focus on what’s of interest to me, and where I feel like I can make a contribution to the community.”
“I always wanted to have my own firm,” Staci recalled, noting that she established Kokoro Engineering in January 2022. “I could see that it was very challenging. I worked in a large corporate company. I didn’t think it was something I could do after seeing the corporate structure, so I let it go for a while. Then due to circumstances that came up at my old company, I decided to become an independent consultant, and I ended up being a principal of my own firm. I got what I wanted to do.”
Staci is no stranger to entrepreneurship, having grown up in Kona on Hawaii Island where her family owns a coffee farm and later established a small coffee shop. She’s quick to credit her parents for their encouragement, guidance, and insights on being a small business owner. “My parents always told me, ‘You can work for someone else, but you’ll be happiest working for yourself,’” she said. “I could see that even though they work seven days a week—and my brothers and I did too—I could see they were happy. They had more control over their schedules and were more fulfilled, and they could see the results of what they put in. It’s hard work but very rewarding.”
As she developed a passion for math and science, Staci decided to pursue her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil and environmental engineering at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and UC Berkeley, respectively. Through Kokoro Engineering, Staci concentrates on her specialties in water and wastewater design because she wants to help others by providing clean water and sanitation. Her work deals primarily with sewers, pump stations, and wastewater treatment, ensuring people have sufficient and clean water and waste is disposed and treated in a sanitary manner. In contrast to being an employee, she can now pursue passion projects and is even considering starting her own nonprofit.
Despite engineering being a male-dominated field, Staci was fortunate to work for a company that treated everyone equally. “It helped me to see that I can be just as good as any other engineer,” she said. “That’s been very helpful for me to understand. My work and reputation are based on what I put into it, not being female.”
One of Staci’s clients is also a female principal engineer who has been sharing about her experiences and offering mentorship. She told Staci about being treated like a secretary early in her career, but instead of being discouraged by it, she saw it as an advantageous situation where she could learn more by attending meetings that others were not privy too. Staci has taken this to heart and now has a mindset of seeing challenges as an opportunity for her to learn and grow from these experiences.
Many small business owners feel uncertainty about how things will work out, and overcoming this was a big accomplishment for Staci. “Fear was one of the biggest things holding me back because I didn’t know what was beyond and how I was going to make it,” she said. “Once I made up my mind and accepted that I’m going to start my own business and do the best that I can, I let people know that I’m available, and all of a sudden, they were contacting me. I’m proud of just taking that leap of faith.”
Staci first learned about the MBDA Enterprising Women of Color Business Center through another client whom she met at a networking event. She has since participated in one-on-one business and financial counseling and will soon be receiving help with taxes. “It’s been great to find out that there are a lot of resources available, especially if you’re a recently established woman-owned business,” Staci notes. “It’s given me options and things I can look into—resources, additional counseling, things that I don’t have a background in. Sometimes as a new business owner, you’re not sure where to start, and there are people to guide you in that direction.”
To her fellow woman entrepreneurs and small business owners, Staci offers the following advice: “If you’re thinking about starting your own business, I would really encourage it, but also there’s a lot to consider and plan for. Try to have money set aside or get a loan or support. I wish I had savings set aside for startup capital because I didn’t understand how long it would take to get work and get paid. Have a plan for how you’re going to find work or clients. I made sure I had a business structure in place with insurance and registration. Once I had that, I felt comfortable to tell people I’m available. Luckily, I’ve been in the industry and active in professional organizations; I had initial contacts. Have a plan of key people to connect with through networking or get introduced to start to find work. Also, look into resources and guidance for where to get started.”