Category Archives: innovation

bGeigie & iGeigie

Local tech company Oceanit and the Honolulu Hackerspace group HI Capacity are collaborating to help Japan with its radiation problems after the explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant this past March. They recently met up with Peiter Franken one of the co-founders of an organization called Safecast that is helping to map out the zones in Japan that are affected by the radiation fallout. Safecast's mission is to empower people with data, primarily by building a sensor network and enabling to both contribute and freely use the data. One of the main issues is that there aren't enough Geiger counters to survey all of Japan for radiation particles. Franken is working with grassroots programmer groups like the Hackerspace in Tokyo and LA to help build the necessary sensor tools. In Hawaii, Ian Kitajima, Marketing Director at Oceanit drove around central Oahu and Waikiki testing out one of the "bento box" Geigers called bGeigie built by the Tokyo Hackerspace. Kitajima told Bytemarks Cafe, "It is a multifaceted problem and Safecast is looking for a variety of ways to get this technology in the hands of the Japanese citizen." According to Franken, the Tokyo group built 15 of these bGeigie units and volunteer groups are driving around the affected region taking readings. They are also looking at both stationary and mobile sensors. The LA group Crashspace is building a geiger counter interface for the iPhone called the iGeigie. Back at home, Ryan Kanno said that the Honolulu Hackerspace group is looking at ways they can help aggregate the data into a central website. This would allow field workers to easily upload their data for instant analysis and visualization.


Anyone who has an Apple mobile device, be it iPod, iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad has one of these, the white USB to 30 pin docking cable that attaches your device to your computer or power plug. And if you are like me you might have several of them. Now if someone asked me to innovate on this product, the first thing I'd do is come up with color variations. It's not rocket science but what I do find quite amazing is that someone right here in Hawaii was the first to come up with this idea. Laurens Laudowicz calls his product Juicies and they come in an assortment of colors; pink, yellow, green, blue, purple, orange and gray. If you're an entrepreneur looking to start a business you might ask yourself, "Why didn't I think of that?" But what looks obvious now wasn't so 6 months ago. I spoke to Laudowicz by phone and he told me he wanted to get into business but it took him a lot of research to find the right niche. He was looking for a product what wasn't already "modified." Obviously cases and covers for the iPhone and iPad are already crowded and you can already get earbuds in all manner of color. But these 30 pin docking cables were only available in white (and sometimes black). So once you have the idea, it's all about timing and execution. In a matter of months, Laudowicz tested options to create his own color cables and settled on having an existing cable manufacturer produce them. He then set up a deal on Kickstarter to help fund his project. The nice part about the Kickstarter deal is that anyone helping to fund the project will get a Juicie in return. He also got the word out on Twitter and Facebook to let the world know that the Juicies are available. This all done before anyone else could get the jump on him. Today (April 22nd) is the debut of Juicies and one day does not make for a successful business. But as of this first day, Juicies has already gained 113 backers and achieved over 50% of the $5000 funding goal. As a small business owner and startup entrepreneur, this immediate feedback must be extremely gratifying. The Kickstarter deal will last for 30 days, until May 23rd so there is still plenty of time to back this project and get your Juicie. I will continue to follow the progression of this novel idea and report back on its development. You can also hear more about Juicies from Laurens Laudowicz on this week's (4/27) Bytemarks Cafe.

Design Thinking in the Schools

Design Thinking WorkshopThis past Monday, I had a chance to help facilitate a Design Thinking workshop as part of the Career and Technical Education, Career Pathway Student Performance Based Assessment Competitions. Ours was a session put on for the attending high school teachers. Design thinking was born out of IDEO, the award winning design firm in Palo Alto. CA. President/CEO Tim Brown articulated the process of design thinking at a TED conference in 2009 that caught on and continues to spread. Also integrally linked to this process is Stanford University's d.School and something founder David Kelly calls "radical collaboration." The d.School process is outlined in the latest issue of Stanford Magazine and available online. The design thinking workshop at the CTE event was modestly smaller in scale and condensed in a 2 hour window. Nevertheless it gave the teachers a taste of what the design thinking process entails. On site to administer the workshop were members of Hawaii's tech advocacy community including Oceanit, Hawaii Technology Development Venture, Hawaii Science and Technology Institute, ISISHawaii and the Inovi Group. The two hour session was a rapid sequence of events to design a new wallet. It started with team formation, interviews about personal wallet preferences, wallet designs, feedback and collaboration and finally prototyping. Everyone proceeded to tap their inner child using construction paper, felt, scissors, tape, velcro and even a little bling to complete the visualization process. Given the short timeframe, the teachers came up with some creative wallet designs. Keith Matsumoto from HTDV closed out the session by explaining how this design thinking process can help to develop Hawaii's workforce of the future. He said, "today's kids coming out of school can't think. This process of design thinking can help to change that."  Matsumoto pointed to the dual-use companies, those companies working on projects funded by the the Dept. of Defense who also look to commercializing those products. Students who get a foundational training in the design thinking process can be valuable assets to companies looking to commercialize product for the market, whether it's medical, energy, ocean or tourism related. Along with the University of Hawaii's Innovation Council backing this effort, this is necessary workforce development for the 21st century.

Ryoma Sakamoto

Japan 2010If you don't already know about the excellent NHK Taiga Drama, Ryomaden, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011 will be the series finale. The show airs in Honolulu on KIKU-TV at 8pm on Tuesday evenings and repeats on Sunday at 8pm. Ryoma Sakamoto lived in the 1860's and is recognized as being the change agent that brought an end to the feudal clan system in Japan, proposed a new form of government and started what is now the Japanese Navy. I found this story about how a low ranking samurai with a vision for the future of Japan could implement change amidst insurmountable odds fascinating. It's a story of innovative, out-of-the-box thinking we hear a lot of rhetoric about in contemporary circles but never get to see examples of how this really works. Here's a guy who actually did it. Granted the Ryoma character is well known to Japanese audiences but it is a rare and fortunate occurrence to have the story told here in Hawaii. It is (was) an inspiring tale as only the Japanese could tell over this year long series. The closest comparison, as far as inspiring tales goes, is The Social Network and that was only 2 hours long. In thinking about the last blog post for 2010, writing one about Ryoma Sakamoto seemed appropriate. My personal connections to innovation, inspiration and out-of-the-box thinking drew me to this character. And through pure serendipity my trip to Japan in November dropped me right into the middle of Ryoma land. Prior to leaving on the 10-day vacation/tour I had no thought of connecting with anything Ryoma-related in Japan. Once in Kyushu and enroute to Nagasaki, Ryoma was everywhere. There were Ryoma collectables, pendents, sake, shirts, posters, statues and even underwear. No, I did not go so far as to get any Ryoma underwear. I did get to visit the site of Ryoma's Kaientai and took a photo with a Ryoma look-a-like character. The experience brought to life this character that lived and died 143 years ago. It also brought to life the idea that if you have the passion and desire to make a difference, you can. The Ryoma character embodies this ethos. It's a great way to look at lessons learned in 2010 and what to apply in 2011. Happy New Year everyone and all the Best in 2011!

Entrepreneurial Symposium

This Entrepreneurial Symposium, organized by the Hawaii Strategic Development Corporation, Enterprise Honolulu and the High Tech Development Corporation, was a unique opportunity to hear how three entrepreneurial support organizations, each in different states (Ohio, Kansas and Oklahoma) approach the development and nurturing of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. The goal for each of these organizations is to foster job growth in the technology sector and to position their state to be a global competitor. Ray Leach, CEO of JumpStart (Ohio) talked about developing a consensus plan by pulling all the stakeholders together to get broad commitment for entrepreneurial development. This involved public/private partnerships and an effort to transform the culture which was predominantly manufacturing. Over the course of 12 years, starting in 1998, Ohio lost an estimated 450,000 jobs. Something needed to be done and as Leach puts it, "never waste a crisis." They took on the task of transforming the business culture and elevating the role of entrepreneurship. They also play an active role in networking entrepreneurs with investors as well as keep state legislators aware of the role entrepreneurs play in business and job creation. Joni Cobb, CEO of Pipeline exuded enthusiasm and passion for the role entrepreneurs play in building businesses in Kansas. Pipeline, which started as an initiative of the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corporation is now a 501(c)3 non-profit providing tools and services to support the development of entrepreneurs. As described by Cobb:
PIPELINE is an “immersion experience.” Our goal is to link each Innovator into a robust and powerful network of supporters, peers and mentors. The Innovator does not just “learn about business.” The aim is to undergo a life altering experience that also changes the direction and trajectory of their company. In the process, Innovators recognize the power of the statewide network, and remain engaged in Kansas as mentors, coaches and investors.
Pipeline's approach struck me as being like an intensive Executive MBA program in Entrepreneurship, with Cobb as the Dean and Chief Evangelist. Going through it would be a life changing experience. Finally, Tom Walker, CEO of I2E (Innovation to Enterprise) based in Oklahoma, talked about their primary focus: Business Services, Access to Capital and Entrepreneurial Development. Its mission is "Home grown economic development by fostering the birth and nurturing the growth of advanced technology companies in Oklahoma." I2E was formed in 1997 as part of Oklahoma's State Legislature's Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology Initiative. Over the course of 2007 - 2010, I2E showed their 150 companies exhibited a 30% growth rate while the rest of the state was in decline. I2E not only provides business support services and access to capital, they also coordinate events and publish resources like the Entrepreneur's Path: A Handbook for High Growth Companies. Each of these organizations started as their respective state's initiative to grow the tech sector in the late 1990's and early 2000's. They took time to gain consensus and broad base support. Now in 2010, each is recognized as models of best practices and for other states to replicate. Needless to say, Hawaii has had the same desire and has numerous assortment of state agencies and business non-profits groups to prove it. But the question still remains, does Hawaii have the commitment and willpower to create and sustain a vibrant, creative, entrepreneurial technology sector. I am glad we are having this conversation but one we have obviously had before. Will it be any different this time around, during this new administration? Hope remains...

Island Innovation Fund

In 2009 the Hawaii Community Foundation (HCF) announced a fund called the Omidyar Innovation Fund that would be made available in 2010. The Fund's focus was to help non-profits get seed funding to kick start innovative projects. According to the HCF website,
The Omidyar Innovation Fund will be a new competitive grant making program that will launch in 2010. It is aimed at spurring innovation in Hawai`i’s social sector. Pam and Pierre Omidyar have committed $6 million over six years for this program which will provide matching funds for qualifying organizations.
The new name for the fund is the Island Innovation Fund. The site says it's under construction but I was told by a reliable source, they wanted the site to be available as soon as possible and have people test it out. The "official" release date was to be October 1st but that has been pushed out to November 1st. On my preview, the proposal review was a 4 step process. The first step in the process is the Concept, where you submit your idea and any associated material, be it photos, video, documents or presentations. There is an open period for submittals and a deadline to meet. Next the process enters into the Collaboration phase where proposal material is made public (public as in registered users of the site). The public has about 30 days to comment or ask questions. Applicants are able to respond to comments and make improvements to their Concept. During the third phase, HCF personnel will review the revised Concept. Projects that best demonstrate the principles and goals of the Island Innovation Fund will be ask to submit a Proposal. Finally in phase 4 the Omidyar Network and Hawaii Community Foundation staff will review and evaluate Proposals. The most compelling proposals get invited to present a 15 minute presentation to an independent panel of judges for final selection. This judging is open to the public. Winning proposals will be announced one week after the final presentations. The novel aspect of the Island Innovation Fund is that it plans to be administered all online, at least the proposal process. That in itself is innovative. The obvious benefits are savings on paper, postage and the speed of facilitating the process. I would equate this to taking an online course. All your interactions, feedback, Q&A and results are done online. It appears the site is based on WordPress 3.0.1 and I am curious to see how it handles all the support material for the proposal. Also will evaluations and performance also be done online. What about mentoring and monitoring? That all remains to be seen and most likely under production. Nevertheless, to have a fund available as possible seed capital for your innovative project is a welcome addition to the funding landscape. I am now anxious to see what sorts of projects get proposed and awarded.

Product Design Innovation

Cycle of InnovationWe're hearing a lot about how innovation is a key attribute for Hawaii businesses to compete in the fast paced national and international marketplace. Businesses here are faced with the raising costs of doing business, skilled labor moving out of the state and developing countries leap frogging our capabilities. Does innovation hold the answers to these challenges? In what way does innovation take place and how do companies instill a culture of innovation? Oceanit, the Hawaii Science & Technology Council and Blue Planet Foundation are trying to help answer these questions. On September 24, 2010, they invited Larry Shubert, formerly with IDEO and now heading up Zip Innovations to facilitate a one-day workshop on Product Design Innovation. The session was well attended with representatives from Oceanit, Referentia, Archinoetics, Blue Planet, Avatar Reality, Clearfuels, TeraSys and others. Shubert opened with a couple of ice-breaker exercises to loosen up the mind. One was to sketch your neighbor in one minute. (I can barely draw a stick man in one minute.) The other was to draw as many objects given a sheet of 30 blank circles. I came up with globes, the sun, balls, targets, wheels, donuts, smiley faces, marbles, planets and then my 2 minutes ran out. Both exercises challenged yourself to be creative without self criticism. It's interesting how in such a short period of time you can find ways of limiting how freely you can think. The aim with Shubert's innovation process is to free the mind, to come up with "wild ideas". To help the attendees with the process of innovation, Shubert shared a video from IDEO shot last year by ABC Nightline. In it, the challenge was put forth to design a new shopping cart in 5 days. It's quite an exciting pr0cess especially given such a short timeframe for completion. And probably a foreboding of what we were then challenged to do. Jeff Mikulina from Blue Planet Foundation then presented the challenge Hawaii faces with petroleum-based energy dependence. This challenge was further distilled down to an exercise for the class. Taking the perspective of four different individuals in the community, how would they view the energy challenge, what would motivate them to move to clean energy and given a 5-year window, what technologies might facilitate that move. The group broke up into teams and brainstormed through scenarios. The facilitators encouraged the brainstorming activity to be unfettered by judgments and preconceived notions. The groups each selected their best ideas via a method I am quite familiar with, voting with Post-its. Finally the pièce de résistance was for each of the groups to build a mock up of their solution and role play a skit demonstrating how this technology or solution got adopted. There were some great ideas and even better acting. I took a few photos and posted them to my Flickr site but they don't give justice to the actual presentations. Videos might start surfacing soon so keep an eye out for them. All in all a good session but just a taste of the innovation process. The challenge now is to put this into everyday business practice. I spoke to Larry Shubert briefly after the workshop and he said,
As you know, innovation is a challenging full contact sport! It is driven by numerous factors including environment, culture, corporate support, process and team dynamics to name a few. Every company has unique needs and objectives.
Our ongoing challenge is to practice innovation on a daily basis and to see how innovation can take hold within the corporate culture. The Innovation Center at HMSA where I work engages in this everyday. We've got our stories to tell and you can find some of then on our website. Share your stories of innovation and together let's see innovation take root and thrive in Hawaii.