Blind Hilo businessman opens artisan market that's expanding to Honolulu

HILO, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Hilo businessman is proving you don't need eyesight to have the foresight into running a successful company. Ivan Hegent launched Dragon Shrimp Company five years ago. Then he saw a need to help artisans with their products and that sparked an idea.

Ivan Hegent is blind from an incurable genetic disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa. He lost his sight in his 20s. To him, the world looks like shapes and some color like red or green.

"It's scary. It's kind of a touchy subject because it's a lot of emotions not being able to see the sky," he said.

While Hegent can't see, he can still sense beauty by people's reactions.

"That's amazing when they come to this particular booth they are like wow," said Hegent who showed off some colorful photographs in his newest venture called Big Island's Finest Artisan Market.

After the success of his shrimp chip company, Hegent recently opened the market in the Prince Kuhio Plaza in Hilo. It's a hui of artisans who can sell their work together and get help with expanding their individual businesses - all under one roof Friday through Sunday. Besides the photographs, there's hats, t-shirts, snacks, soaps and paintings.

"Everyone who creates something there's a story behind and why they do it and passion behind it," said Hegent.

For many local artisans, it's difficult opening their own shop because of the high costs, but this market gives them an entry point into a local mall.

"We have these programs that can help them become potentially known out there so that's what we are about is helping them to achieve," said Hegent.

It's this vision for helping others that has fueled his drive to continue to create.

"Just because I'm disabled. It won't stop me... I can do it just like anybody else and maybe even better," he said.

Hegent says his second artisan market called Oahu's Finest Artisan Market will be moving into Ala Moana Center this fall.