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.
It's testament to Pat Sullivan for not only lasting 25 years in Hawaii but to actually grow Oceanit and thrive in this arguably isolated market. I remember visiting him some 20 years ago in a small one-man office in downtown Honolulu. Now they command an entire 6th floor space in the Oceanit Center on Fort St. Mall and are expanding on the ground floor to accommodate their lab. The projects they take on seem to have no boundaries. On one side of the floor is Hoana Medical where they develop and market the Lifegurney. Think of Star Trek's Sick Bay beds that read your vital signs as you lie there. On another floor in the Oceanit Lab, work is going on to develop nanoparticles consisting of nanatubes that are filled with toxins. The design of these nanoparticles make them seek out specific cancer cells upon which they bind and inject their toxic payload, killing the cancer cells. In the photo above, programmers have devised a way to read your heart rate by placing your finger on the camera lens of your iPhone. The approach is novel enough to be patentable. In the growing market for personal activity and health monitors this would be a must have.
During the short program, Pat Sullivan talked about being disruptive and finding new ways to use technology to make a difference. But it's not only about being smart with technology but it is also about being smart with the connections that will get you there. Obviously Hawaii is a big Department of Defense location and the right Federal connections are important in making the equation work out. Each of the Hawaii delegation to Washington DC were on hand to talk about tech in Hawaii and Oceanit in particular. US Rep. Mazie Hirono, Sen. Daniel Akaka and Sen. Daniel Inouye each spoke. Sen Inouye brought attention to earmarks which he has been publicly criticized for. If you listen to his talk, about 30 minutes into the video, he is no where near giving up on this tool for Federal funding of special projects. All in all a delightful, thought provoking evening about what it takes to survive and thrive in Hawaii's technology industry.
Invent. Disrupt. Inspire. How can you not be intrigued by a company with such a bold motto? This past Friday (9/25), the Bytemarks crew converged on Cellular Bioengineering Inc. for the monthly geek lunch gathering. CBI graciously allowed us the take over their conference room. We usually catch up on the tech happenings around town but on this occasion, Dr. Mark Mugaishi launched into a presentation about some of the interesting projects the company is undertaking. Their flagship products are Eyegenix and Decongel both of which are far enough along the product development cycle to be available in the commercial market. The above photo is one of CBI's newer projects called Trutag (aka PixieTag). They have figured out a way to encode spectral codes onto a pure form of silica, as shown in the monitor on the right. This silica is broken down to very small particles, smaller than a grain of sugar that can be embedded into a drug coating. This can be read by a spectrometer and the corresponding code read to verify authenticity of the shipment, as shown on the monitor to the left.
Another interesting project, still in its early stage is eCanary (aka CMC Chip). The idea behind this application, much like the name implies, is to build a device that you can place into a potentially hazardous environment, for example, poisonous gas, radioactive or particulate matter and determine if it is deadly. Instead of using a canary, CBI has developed a bio-sensor which combines live cardiac cells on an electronic detection chip. The integrated bio-electronics can detect responses to the live cells and conclude whether or not there is a hazardous condition. The photo shows a microscopic view of the live cardiac cells. In the image the cells were beating. If they were to stop beating, i.e. die, the electronics would detect this.
Mahalos go out to Hank Wuh, Georgette Ulloa, Mark Mugaishi and Mike Oneill for their gracious hospitality and informative tour. Great work being done right here in Hawaii.
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.