Meet our ohana: Jesse Cooke

Nov 10, 2020

As Ulupono Initiative’s vice president of investments and analytics, Jesse Cooke provides financial and technical due-diligence for investment decisions on a diversity of projects. His primary focus as part of the Ulupono team is seeking and supporting organizations working to increase local food production in the Hawaiian Islands. With extensive career-earned knowledge and experience in finance, Jesse provides crucial guidance on the agricultural strategy of the organizations he works with and helps determine investments for Ulupono that create and sustain local food production in Hawaii.

For Jesse, who also leads a team of Ulupono investment associates, his work goes beyond crunching numbers on a spreadsheet – it’s also about people, relationships and community. In his time with Ulupono Initiative, he has cultivated relationships with farmers, ranchers and partners in the statewide agricultural community, personally visiting farms as often as he can. Jesse understands that in order to provide valuable support that truly makes a difference to Hawaii’s farms and ranches, he needs to experience the challenges, opportunities and solutions each operation faces firsthand.

“I enjoy helping Hawaii’s agriculture companies grow and become profitable while also helping to increase and make local food production more resilient,” Jesse said. “It’s also great supporting local entrepreneurs in their efforts to grow their ideas into viable businesses.”

During the COVID-19 crisis, Jesse applied his attention and time to connecting farmers with funding and food distribution channels, helping forge new relationships between them to weather the pandemic and hopefully endure long afterward. He has also long advocated for stronger political will to be placed behind the state’s agriculture plans and for large government institutions to step up their support of local ag with their own significant purchasing power (Read “Column: Pandemic shows agriculture’s vital role,” published April 20, 2020, in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, and “Want Food Security? Get Serious About Local Ag,” published June 20, 2020, in Honolulu Civil Beat).

A graduate of Saint Louis School in Honolulu, Jesse earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Emory University and a Master of Business Administration from the J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University, both located in Atlanta. Prior to joining Ulupono Initiative, he worked at Hawaiian Airlines, The Walt Disney Company, Harren Equity Partners and the Wachovia Leveraged Finance Group. He is a recognized CFA® charterholder and a member of the CFA® Society of Hawaii.