Back in the 2012 legislative session, several poorly crafted Internet bills galvanized the local tech community to discuss how to respond. What resulted was a townhall meeting and a the formation of Facebook group for the Hawaii Innovation Alliance (HIA). It had all the good intentions to formally organize and provide a voice for Hawaii's technology community. Previous organizations like the Hawaii Technology Trade Association and the Hawaii Science and Technology Council had already come and gone, leaving a huge void for this nascent economic sector. (Note, these links for HTTA and HiSciTech are only stubs as their original website have been long discontinued.)
Three years later, the HIA continues to survive primarily as a Facebook group, with online discussions motivated by key individuals like Jared Kuroiwa, Peter Kay, Derek Gabriel, Ryan Hew and others. Interestingly, the group has not met face-to-face to discuss plans to organize, although many of the individuals know each other -- until now.
The question whether there is a voice for tech in Hawaii still remains. It came up repeatedly during a Hawaii Venture Capital Association lunch in January 2015. It was also a topic of conversation at the f2f gathering of the HIA. Jared Kuroiwa along with Robbie Melton, help moderated the discussion and summarized the following conclusions in the Facebook Group:
Investigate having a "technology group" within the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii (or other organization).
Look at if there are enough people wanting to form our own organization/501cX (pledge vote coming up).
HIA will still track bills and will have a wiki.innovationhawaii.com site set up to make it easier for people to find things.
HIA will continue to work with other tech organizations to form a unified position. If you are a leader (or member) of other tech groups, please feel free to share.
Derek Gabriel made a strong case for #1. Consulting with Len Higashi (HTDC) and with strong support from Sen. Glenn Wakai, the idea of joining an existing business association like the Chamber made a lot of sense. The organizational structure already exists and credibility established. The Chamber already has an Economic Development and Innovation Committee. Companies and individuals only need to spend the money, somewhere between $150 - $300 to join.
With case #2, Ryan Hew continues to be willing to provide the services, gratis I might add, to form a 501cX organization for the HIA. He has graciously offered this from day one and continues to do so. The challenge here, and probably the main reason it has not happened since that first meeting in Feb 2012 is that once the organization has filed the paperwork, the hard and laborious work begins. Maintaining a 501cX requires a dedication to administrative work that very few have the time or resource to commit to. So as much as an independent HIA as a 501cX is appealing, until someone steps up to work the day to day details, HIA will most likely continue as a Facebook group.
With item #3, Jason Axelson volunteered to set up a wiki for the group. One complaint expressed was that information about the original charter for HIA was hard to find. It is scattered between the Facebook group and the website HawaiiInnovation.com. One good thing over the years is the Charter has remained consistent:
The Hawaii Innovation Alliance (HIA) aims to create a more unified voice representing the islands' innovation community (technology, startups, entrepreneurs, new and social media, etc.) to foster innovation, educate lawmakers, and advocate appropriate policy.
Finally, it may not be a bad thing to have HIA continue as loose gathering of individuals, dialoging on Facebook. The tech/innovation community speaks through many organizations, like the Chamber of Commerce, High Tech Development Corp., Hawaii Venture Capital Association, Hawaii Business Roundtable and Enterprise Honolulu. Having one more formal organization may not be the most productive. What is productive is building an informed community well versed in the issues. HIA may not 100% of the time agree on which bills to support, but its individual participants can still submit testimony and that voice according to Sen Wakai is still a very valuable one.