When the University of Hawai‘i (UH) took on the challenge of spearheading the Hawai‘i Innovation Initiative, a bold effort to diversify the state’s economy through the aggressive commercialization of UH-based research—the road ahead remained full of internal and external challenges.
While internal policies, structures and personnel were recalibrated, created or added to foster a more nimble entrepreneurial ecosystem at UH, restrictive state statues remained as a roadblock to tech transfer and commercialization efforts. After three years of collaborative effort between UH and the local business community, the Hawai‘i State Legislature finally passed two measures to eliminate these restrictions. Known as Act 38 and Act 39, both bills were signed into law on June 19, 2017. This created a new window of opportunity for UH.
Much of the credit for this effort and for laying out the initial roadmap for the Hawai‘i Innovation Initiative must go to the Hawaiʻi Business Roundtable, American Savings Bank President and CEO Rich Wacker and venture capitalist Barry Weinman. Known primarily for his philanthropic generosity to UH, Weinman was also a staunch, but lesser-known supporter of UH research for over a decade. In addition to managing a small seed fund for UH research at one time, Weinman provided the critical nudge to create a UH accelerator and was to first to recognize that the existing statues would stand in the way of the initiative’s progress.
Thanks in part to Weinman and the efforts of others, UH’s world-class faculty and student researchers in the areas of astronomy and space exploration, ocean and climate sciences, health and wellness, digital economy and civil infrastructure security, and sustainable ecosystems and energy—now have a level playing field to market their passion and life’s work into successful business ventures that could potentially benefit the state, the nation and the world.
Please take a look at our work represented in the following pages and see what makes the University of Hawai‘i—like no place else on Earth.
Vassilis L. Syrmos, PhD
Vice President for Research and Innovation
University of Hawai‘i System