New Innovation Programs

AS HAWAI’I’S ECONOMIC HISTORY ILLUSTRATES, THE 50TH STATE HAS BEEN OVERLY DEPENDENT ON SINGLE PRODUCT INDUSTRIES.  Whaling, sugar and pineapple have all but faded, with the military and tourism serving as the current standard bearer.  However, recent events have shown the fragile nature of these mature industries, including growing movements to scale back, which may further limit economic growth.    

The University of Hawai’i has long been a proponent of innovation and continues its effort to help build a thriving research and innovation sector that can become an economic growth engine for the state. To do so, it has created a unique suite of programs to help motivated faculty become the instruments of change in the classroom, labs and the marketplace.

Faculty Fellows

The Faculty Fellows program will enhance faculty involvement in innovation and entrepreneurship by providing experiential certificate training in the Lean Startup methodology. Tailored to educators, the program will support UH faculty by weaving key innovation and entrepreneurship principles into course design, while also growing an active and collaborative network of innovative educators and academic entrepreneurs.

Classes will be delivered through a curriculum co-developed by VentureWell, a longstanding collaborator with the National Science Foundation, whose mission is to cultivate a pipeline of inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs by advancing innovation and entrepreneurship education from research labs, classrooms, and beyond.

The inaugural program will pilot this summer with six faculty from the College of Engineering at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa who have a track record of high-impact teaching practices and transformative approaches in the courses that they currently teach. Each faculty member is currently engaged in areas that warrant new approaches to addressing pressing challenges, such as engineering design, advanced additive manufacturing, concrete technology development, microelectronic design, and coastal modeling.

Faculty Fellows will participate in interactive workshops and engage in panel discussions to learn: how to leverage the customer discovery process; teach using the business model canvas; and guide the application of Lean Startup methodology.

Following completion of the program, Faculty Fellows will gain access to future funding opportunities in teaching and course development to continue pioneering new ways to engage students in inclusive STEM innovation and entrepreneurship.

“This stimulation of greater entrepreneurial thinking through teaching will help build a community of practice around innovation by fostering cross-disciplinary collaboration in course development and facilitating curriculum mapping to develop future STEM leaders in emerging industries,” said Rebecca Chung, OIC associate director, innovation programs and Faculty Fellows program lead.

For more information on Faculty Fellows, visit:

The inaugural cohort includes:

Oceana Puananilei Francis

Civil and Environmental Engineering / Sea Grant College Program

Aaron Ohta

Electrical and Computer Engineering

Tyler Ray
(Faculty Lead)

Assistant Professor
Mechanical Engineering

Lin Shen

Associate Professor
Civil and Environmental Engineering

Zac Trimble

Associate Professor
Mechanical Engineering

Jeff Weldon

Associate Professor
Electrical and Computer Engineering


Patents2Products is another exciting program that will be launched this year that will focus on developing innovation acumen and business fluency, to mature the development of impact-driven technologies in UH research labs.

“This fellowship program seeks to effectively train PhD candidates and postdoctoral researchers in translational research with a focus on innovation,” said Chung. “The opportunity to broaden scientific training to increase innovation capacity will accelerate the translation of scientific discoveries into meaningful commercializable opportunities.”

Patents2Products Fellows, who will be selected this summer, will each work alongside a faculty sponsor, an active investigator in the area of the proposed research, who will oversee the training and research experience throughout the duration of the one-year program.

Fellows will receive intellectual property training, technology transfer guidance, and industry mentorship. They will also learn and apply the Lean Startup methodology through the NSF I-Corps™ program, as well as participate in professional development workshops and networking opportunities to seek future funding and research collaborations. Each Fellow will receive salary compensation, a stipend for research and supplies; and have access to state-of-the art facilities and specialized equipment.

The following faculty sponsors and selected projects will receive technical support from Patents2Products Fellows:

Novel Metagenomic Sequencing Technology to rapidly characterize influenza diversity and dynamics in wastewater to better inform flu vaccine development. Faculty Sponsor: Tao Yan, Water Resources Research Center, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, College of Engineering, UH Mānoa

Innovative Desalination Technology through solar thermal conversion to help solve freshwater shortage issues and replace existing energy-intensive processes with sustainable, green technologies for water purification. Faculty Sponsor: Woochul Lee, Department of Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering, UH Mānoa

eDNA Filtration System that allows for simultaneous environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis to amplify and improve the efficiency and accuracy of researching ecological aqua/water/ocean communities. Faculty Sponsor: Timothy Grabowski, Marine Science Department, UH Hilo; Marine Biology Graduate Program, UH Mānoa; and Unit Leader, Hawai‘i Cooperative Fishery Research Unit

At-Home Body Composition Assessment Technology that provides highly effective obesity models to improve access and use particularly in low- and middle-income environments and increase awareness and early detection and intervention of body composition risk factors for obesity. Faculty Sponsor: John Shepherd, UH Cancer Center, UH Mānoa

Programmable Genome Insertion Tool to actively and accurately incorporate DNA into the genome of somatic cells at specific locations to develop clinical therapies that use insertional vectors to treat genetic disease. Faculty Sponsor: Jesse Owens, Cell and Molecular Biology Department, John A. Burns School of Medicine, UH Mānoa

Expression Vector System using an improved insect cell line to develop a fully customizable product that can be used for the expression of almost any protein and provide high-yield production of vaccine antigens. Faculty Sponsor: Axel Lehrer, Department of Tropical Medicine, Medical Microbiology and Pharmacology, John A. Burns School of Medicine, UH Mānoa.

Wearable Sensor for detecting date rape drugs will be a stylish and functional ring equipped with integrated sensors for personal detection of flunitrazepam (also known as Rohypnol) in beverages to mitigate drug-facilitated assaults. Faculty sponsor: Tyler Ray, Department of Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering, UH Mānoa

Ultrasonic Sensor System to quantitatively assess the initial fixation of orthopedic implants and prevent aseptic loosening and the problematic need for revision surgeries, which are more difficult to perform, have increased risks, longer recovery and greater healthcare burden. Faculty sponsor Jeff Weldon, Electrical Engineering, College of Engineering, UH Mānoa

For more information about the Patents2-Products programs, visit: