Malibu man brings entrepreneurship to students struggling after the Maui fire

Former Malibu resident Bill Kerbox, who had helped re-activate Operation Recovery Malibu (ORM) after the 2018 Woolsey Fire, has now created the Maui Entrepreneur Academy in the aftermath of that island's disastrous fires. Contributed Photo

Local man uses today’s modern tools to help devastated Lahaina community rebuild

A former Malibu man with strong ties to Hawaii is using his skills and entrepreneurship to help victims of the devastating Lahaina fire. Bill Kerbox grew up in Oahu and still has family in Maui. His brother, Buzzy Kerbox, is a well-known figure in the islands since winning a World Surfing Championship representing Hawaii and also because of his work with Laird Hamilton inventing tow-in surfing on mega waves.

Bill Kerbox had been living in Malibu for more than a decade when smoke damage from the Woolsey Fire made his home unlivable. Even without a home Kerbox immediately jumped into action during the Woolsey lockdown in Malibu by helping to arrange a yacht full of urgent supplies to the community in desperate need of water, batteries, food, and medicine but otherwise unable to receive supplies by land due to road closures.

In 2018, Kerbox was instrumental in reactivating Operation Recovery Malibu (ORM) that was originally formed by former Malibu Times publishers Arnold and Karen York who lost their home in the 1993 Malibu Fire. ORM served as a clearing house of sorts for Woolsey victims who were in the process of rebuilding their homes. ORM researched and interviewed attorneys, insurance companies, contractors, designers, and other professionals on behalf of fire victims. Kerbox used his videography skills to tape the ORM meetings and livestream them for the benefit of the community.

When the Lahaina fire hit in August, Kerbox was on a plane immediately and ready to use his skills in starting another nonprofit, Operation Recovery Maui. With Buzzy’s help and name recognition the nonprofit hit the ground running.

In a huge assist to Lahaina residents Kerbox used drones to survey the fire scene so homeowners could quickly assess if their properties were even still standing. He made the videos available to Lahaina fire victims to use for insurance claims. It was then he said, “We realized very quickly that the video component to bring back tourism was going to be huge.” But Kerbox added, “It was a David and Goliath story.” 

Kerbox says other state agencies trying the same strategies to bring back visitors were ineffective. OMR used its expertise in making a video campaign to boost tourism “to be targeted to the areas where Maui visitors are known to come,” according to Kerbox. ORM has been working with the local mayor’s office and hopes to get a grant to do more.

Still, Kerbox realized he wanted to do more to help the community rebuild. 

“We realized even if we bring tourists back, the children who lost their homes and their schools needed an education that would actually bring them value,” he said. “We looked at the broken education system and said we can do better.” 

So, Operation Maui Recovery created the Young Entrepreneur Success System which had previously launched in Malibu after the Woolsey Fire. 

“We were able to see the value in that which had now changed. So, Maui Entrepreneur Academy (MEA) was born,” Kerbox explained, using technology of today and tomorrow. “We’ll train students how to use artificial intelligence (AI), video marketing, production using mobile phones, social media and entrepreneurship.”

Maui Preparatory Academy, just outside Lahaina, will host MEA for its first boot camp for children from sixth through 12th grades. Kerbox noted adult business owners have expressed interest and may also attend if there’s room available. 

“What we believe from our experience in Malibu is that this education platform is going to transform the lives of all the kids and many of the business people,” he said. “We’re helping them use AI and creating video business plans.”

The curriculum is all funded through the nonprofit. It will focus on building businesses. 

“We’re going to excite them, train them and have our curriculum available on our platform,” Kerbox said, noting that he is hoping to attract “entrepreneurs from around the globe and from islands in the Hawaiian chain” to participate in sharing their knowledge and “to keep these kids engaged.”

By using AI, Kerbox said he hopes it will give kids “a voice in the rebuilding of Lahaina. The way it stands right now there’s zero chance. You put four smart high school kids together and they have the ability to come up with plans that are smarter than these folks who are trying to rebuild Maui that don’t know what they’re doing. We believe that a big part of our mission is to help children have a say, a voice in rebuilding Maui and also more importantly how to rebuild the economy so it’s Hawaii based so it’s not dependent on tourism.”