Category Archives: technology Hawaii business

Lunching at Sopogy

Our monthly Bytemarks Lunch gathering, usually the last Friday of the month, found us at local high tech alternative energy manufacturer, Sopogy. We got treated to an overview of Sopogy solar energy technology, courtesy of Van Matsushige. One bit of trivia, since many people ask where did they get their name, Sopogy. According to Van it is a mashup of Solar, Power, Technology. In the video, Van explains the basic operations of the MicroCSP, Concentrated Solar Power unit. The company has installations around the world in Asia, Middle East and on the West Coast. According to an article in PBN, Sopogy has "secured and is fulfilling more than $1.3 billion worth of sales." Definitely a company to watch.  Much mahalo to Van, Darren Kimura and Sher Komoda for being such gracious hosts. Bytemarks Lunch - Aug. 28, 2009The Bytemarks lunch is attended by a complement of local tech geeks. Notices for monthly lunch go out on the Bytemarks Yahoogroup I setup ages ago as well as on the Bytemarks page on Facebook. if you are interested please feel free to signup. Attendees share their latest tech find.  At this month's lunch, Paul Lawler brought is newly minted GigaPan camera mount and Ryan Ozawa shared Yelp's augmented reality iPhone app. and Traci Toguchi talked about a video she did of this local tech geek for Chris.Pirillo.com.

Light Rail vs. Elevated Rail

Rail comparisonHere's a little background on the topic of the next episode of Bytemarks Cafe. Back in July I participated in Pecha Kucha Night at the Academy of Arts. After my presentation, Scott Wilson, Architect and member of American Institute of Architects (AIA Honolulu), did a presentation on Light Rail. At the time I wasn't aware of the major differences between Light Rail and Elevated Rail. That difference became obviously clear when he posted his pictures comparing the two. The elevated structures required to support the rail system were huge. Evidently the City contracted Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) only considered elevated as an option, not at-grade where light rail would apply. Wilson showed artists renditions of these structures as it would appear in downtown Honolulu and along the route to Oahu's west side. This would obviously affect the mauka to makai view line but there were also implications to overall costs, neighborhood impact and ongoing mantenance. Proponents of the elevated option counter that light rail would present safety concerns, operate at slower speeds and have higher long-term costs. The discussion on this topic is heating up as the City heads toward groundbreaking for the project later this year. You can find the vast assortment of positions from Doug Carlson's Say Yes to Rail System site to recent articles from local media listed on the AIA Honolulu Transit page. Lots of information to digest as this project moves forward with the potential to forever impact Honolulu. If you have any questions for Scott Wilson or Peter Vincent, both of AIA Honolulu, please tune in on Wed. 8/26 from 5-6pm on KIPO 89.3FM, Hawaii Public Radio. Call us at 808-941-3689 with your questions and insights.

News Updates for Aug. 19, 2009

Today's Bytemarks Cafe was our #52 edition. Time sure goes by fast when you are having fun! Theoretically we made one year on the first week of August but since we did not do a show on Christmas and New Years Day this is our 52nd. Today's show featured Jeff Mikulina and Gary Gill from Blue Planet Foundation. You can find the podcast on the Bytemarks Cafe site. Since I have been remiss about posting our news stories, I hope to start a new routine by posting them here. These are the Hawaii science and tech news highlights from today's show. In addition, Seth Ladd joined us to provide an update on the upcoming Aloha on Rails Conference. And now the news...
  • The Washington D.C.-based Broadband Information Services Consortium has partnered with Hawaii to conduct broadband mapping under President Obama's broadband stimulus package. They are also partnered with Oregon, as well as Guam and Samoa. The Consortium is a partnership between One Economy, the New America Foundation, and BroadMap, and its mission is to ensures that states have the most accurate, fully verified, and up-to-date information available in their broadband map, which is needed to compete for $4 billion in broadband grants and loans available through the stimulus bill. In Hawaii, BroadMap is working with the Dept of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA), the Pacific Disaster Center and local companies Referentia and Akimeka on the broadband mapping project, which is being coordinated by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
  • While several companies and international coalitions are investing billions of dollars into laying new undersea cables to bolster broadband connectivity, an established player is working on upgrading its existing system. Last week, Southern Cross and Nortel successfully tested data transmissions of 40 gigabits per second over its nearly 5,000-mile long link between New Zealand and Hawaii, effectively quadrupling the capacity of the submarine cable.
  • Google is becoming the world's central clearinghouse for information, and its web interface supports over a hundred different languages. And now, thanks to the efforts of Keola Donaghy, an assistant professor at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, you can now use Google in Hawaiian. Donaghy, who teaches at the College of Hawaiian Language, volunteered over a hundred hours of his time to translate over 2,000 individual phrases and elements of Google's interface into the Hawaiian language.
  • The Kilo Moana is the flagship research vessel of the University of Hawaii's School of Ocean & Earth Science & Technology. And this past weekend, U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye toured the ship, in his role as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. After meeting with school dean Brian Taylor and several of the scientists who've worked aboard the Kilo Moana, Sen. Inoye declared that "national interests are well served," according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

Hawaii Spinout Summit

The Hawaii Spinout Summit was held this past Thursday as a half day conference that brought together researchers and scientists with entrepreneurs, investors and business people. The idea was to provide a forum to advance the concept of taking intellectual property developed at the University of Hawaii and explore ways of commercializing it, ie spinning it off into a potential businesses. Invited speakers included Katharine Ku from Stanford University, Office of Technology Licensing and Craig Johnson of Virtual Law Partners in Silicon Valley. The panels primarily revolved around how to identify potential spinout opportunities from the University and turn them into successful businesses. One interesting statistic from the Stanford's OTL is that amongst the 7740 projects that the office has licensed, only 3 represent the lion share of their revenue. One of those three was Google. Katharine Ku told the story of how Larry Page and Sergey Brin tried to get initial funding for their project but could not attract the interest of the investment community. Stanford's OTL licensed the algorithm for the search engine to Google in return for a small percentage of stock in the company. The rest is history. The point being though that there are only a few companies that will hit home runs and it is more about quantity than trying to find the next Google. At the beginning even Google wasn't identified as a home run. Key takeaways from the summit:
  1. It's a numbers game. The more companies that get started the better the probability of a success.
  2. There needs to be better communication amongst the community of UH researchers, OTTED and the investors and entrepreneurs.
  3. The winning idea often comes through a series of iterations, never on the first take.
  4. Patience needs to be balanced with the objective of turning a profit.
  5. Researchers need to seriously evaluate their role in the company. Researchers don't necessarily make good managers.
Both Stanford's OTL and Univ. of Hawaii's OTTED have a database of technologies that could be licensed for potential commercialization. Both Katharine Ku of Stanford and Jonathan Roberts of UH's OTTED echoed that they want to find ways to license this technology to companies. They both admit, it doesn't do any good staying in a database.

What Happen to Act 221

Think TechJay Fidell's article about how Gov. Lingle led the tech industry to believe that she was going to veto SB 199, the Senate Bill that basically enviscerated Act 221 by neutralizing the 2:1 investment multiplier. The article is a behind the scene account of how there seemed to be a glimmer of hope for a chance at a veto. It's a story of how tech business people are passionate and persistent. And ultimately a story of disappointment. During this legislative session, I was witness to the effort put forth by the tech industry. I know folks who lobbied and wrote testimonials, who spent long hours at the Capitol trying to convince legislators and those who organized the troops to get the message out. This story is not only about a Governor's false promise to the tech industry but about the legislators who crafted this bill and their short sightedness toward Hawaii's economy. I keep hearing about the forces that are fighting against tech in Hawaii. Who wouldn't want to diversify Hawaii's economy, build a base of skilled knowledge workers and create industries that are clean and green. It is hard to imagine Hawaii without a tech industry. The exodus of Hawaii's bright young minds will continue leaving only service industry jobs, a throw back to the plantation days. It will be interesting to see how the tech industry emerges from this. Right now they are licking their wounds, trying to figure out the next move. The tech industry will perservere, perhaps slower as a result of SB 199. The fear is with the fast pace of tech elsewhere can Hawaii keep pace and stay competitive. Next year is an election year for a new Governor. Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona has already come out on several occasions to voice his opposition to Gov. Lingle allowing SB 199 to go into law without a veto. He was also at the recent TechHui Conference this past weekend delivering the opening remarks in support of the tech industry. Is Duke Aiona our choice for the next tech Gov of Hawaii? I have yet to hear a statement from Neil Abercrombie or Mufi Hannemann on the subject. More to come as time is evermore cricial.

Unconferenz 2009

It's amazing how fast time flies by. It didn't seem like one year had gone by since the first Unconferenz took place. The Unconferenz is Hawaii's grassroots tech gathering, organic and self-organized by its participants. On Feb 7, the Unconferenz 2009 materialized at JAIMS where 65+ attendees convened to discuss topics that ranged from Hawaii's broadband future to video streaming. As spontaneous as I might make it sound, the Unconferenz is really a participatory event that is planned over the months preceding the date. The primary discussion takes place at Unconferenz.ning.com where session topics are proposed. As usually is the case there are sessions that you have to choose between. My morning session choices were Second Life, Broadband in Hawaii and Dev. iPhone Apps. The afternoon sessions were split between New Media in News and Gadgets - Show and Tell and wound up with Video Streaming. You can get a sense of the place by checking out the Flickr set by @Quilldancer and the set by @Beegkahuna. I posted my set here. Another great place to experience the flow of events is from the Twitter stream at hash tag #unz. People ask me what is the purpose of the Unconferenz?  It is really about collaboration, participation and sharing. It's value to me is to bring people together to interact on topics of interest and to create an environment where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I cannot help but feel that for this the Unconferenz was a great success. A big Mahalo goes out to all the attendees since the Unconferenz is a direct reflection of all who participated. MAHALO!

Call to Action

Extend221.orgWe had the chance to talk several times about Act 221 on Bytemarks Cafe. First with Lisa Gibson and Mike Hamnet and more recently with Sen. Carol Fukunaga and David Watumull. Act 221 went into effect in 2001. It provides for tax credits to State of Hawaii investors who invest in qualified high-tech businesses (QHTB). Based on a recent report by the Dept. of Taxation, $657.5 million in investment credit was claimed by investors. This is viewed by the current administration as potential revenue that could be used for other projects like education and social services. Understandably, in this economic downturn the State is looking for any source of revenue. Act 221 is not excluded from this scrutiny. Keep in mind Act 221 was put in place to do several things including, to be a capital raising tool for Hawaii QHTBs, to support the creation of higher-paying technology jobs and to create viable high technology companies contributing long-term to Hawaii’s economy. It's successfully done all of these. The 177 QHTBs who filed in 2007 reported almost 1500 full time jobs in the tech sector. This does not include jobs from large corporations like Hawaiian Electric, Hawaiian Telcom or Oceanic Cable. The claim that $657.5 million in investment credit is lost revenue to the State misses the point that the money was used to hire employees who then had to pay State income tax. The companies also paid employee taxes, sold products and paid excise taxes. Point being, Act 221 has done more to create jobs and keep the money and dealflow happening in Hawaii, something needed by a fledgling tech economy. On January 21, during opening day at the State Legislature the Extend221 effort will take to the streets. We are asking all in support of extending (preserving) Act 221 to show up at 7:00am on Jan. 21st near the Father Damien statue, get a free Extend221 t-shirt and show the legislators you support Hawaii tech industry. Let's keep tech growing in Hawaii to become a viable economic engine for our future generations. See you all there.

Weekend Observations

This past weekend will be one remembered by O`ahuans for a long time. It was the second island-wide blackout in as many years. It was about 6:30pm on a Friday evening. We had just finished dinner and I was settling down to my cup of coffee when the lightning flashed, the thunder crackled and the lights went out. I walked outside and noticed the darkness extend beyond Pearl City. It was an eerie feeling. We all know what followed, 12 to 24 hours without electricity. We still do not know exactly what caused it and HECO is not saying. In the ensuring days people got together and freely expressed their feelings. These are not in any particular order. They are highlights of conversations that I was a part of with others and thought I would share them with you. I may not agree with all of them but they were certainly thought provoking.
  • Island-wide Blackout: If all it takes is a lightning strike to take out the electricity for the entire island of O`ahu, can you imagine what a Hurricane Iniki would do to O`ahu. It would be devastating. How can an earthquake in 2006 on Hawaii island and now a lightning storm shut down the entire island? This only shows how fragile our infrastructure is.
  • Hawaiian Electric Industries: Confidence in HEI is at a low point with these island-wide blackouts. It brings to question their ability to manage a regional power company. Their track record in other markets like the Philippines and China have been less than stellar. Didn't they get out of those markets to focus on this market?
  • Alternative Energy: Now is the time for Hawaii to put everything it's got into establishing alternative energy as a cornerstone industry in Hawaii. We have solar, wind, geothermal, ocean and biofuel projects taking shape. Will it happen? Consensus was NO, because we are too near sighted and motivated my self interests. Hawaii does not have the will power and single minded focus. We do not have that key person with the vision and ability to execute.
  • State Legislature: There are too many agendas and near sightedness to get anything done. Generalization: the Legislature is social liberal and fiscally conservative.  Even though alternative energy makes sense, they won't fund it.
  • Act 221: The strong survive and the weak die. Act 221 skews that dynamic and artificially props up companies that should otherwise die. With that said, Act 221 should be supported in this economic downturn to help the fledgling tech industry. It might be another question when times are good.
  • Better Place: This company may be the best thing to happen to Hawaii. It would put Hawaii at the forefront of alternative energy transportation. The problem is company representatives are spending too much time with Gov. Lingle and not enough time lobbying the Legislature who appropriate the money. If that doesn't change it will just be another PR campaign.
That's it for the street rumblings. If I hear more of these I will keep you posted. Whether you agree or disagree, it is always interesting to hear what people are saying. At least I find it interesting.

2nd Friday Tech Download

2nd Friday Tech DownloadEvery second Friday of the month the Hawaii Science & Technology Council host their monthly breakfast. Although this breakfast meeting has been going on for some time, this is the first full meeting I attended. The format is as follows, continental breakfast for the first 30 minutes then several companies in similar fields will present a company overview and current projects. This past Friday, three companies in the healthcare IT category presented. Akimeka presented their troop location database, specifically how they are able to track a soldier's whereabouts as they get processed through the various medical facilities in combat scenario. Convergent CT discussed their data mining capabilities and showed how healthcare savings can be realized through regular screenings. Finally MediKeeper gave an overview of the up and coming world of personal health records. Hawaii Science & Technology Council is chartered to promote technology in Hawaii and to provide a voice for technology in the legislature. I am sure they do much more as Lisa Gibson, the sole motivator behind HiSciTech, has boundless energy and a passion to make a difference. Given the subject matter I suspected there might be about 40 people in attendance. In reality, it was closer to 85. There was definitely interest in the topic but what was encouraging was that companies like these are successfully making a go of it in Hawaii. Tech in Hawaii is establishing a foothold. More on this in future posts.