UH Innovation Efforts Receive a Boost

The Hawai‘i Innovation Initiative, one of four priorities set forth in the University of Hawai‘i Strategic Directions, 2015-2021, is a collaborative effort between University of Hawai‘i and the Hawai‘i business community to build a thriving innovation, research, education and training enterprise-based on UH research, to help grow a third major economic sector to create high-quality, living wage-jobs in the state.

Despite making strides in creating the necessary infrastructure at UH and conducting successful educational outreach efforts to constituents in the Hawai‘i business and innovation community, the initiative remained hampered by existing state statues that limited UH’s ability to participate in technology transfer and commercialization activities.

As a direct result of efforts led by UH and the Hawaiʻi Business Roundtable (HBR) to familiarize and educate the Hawai‘i State Legislature on the subject, these restrictions were finally lifted on June 19, 2017—as Hawai‘i Governor David Ige signed into law two legislative measures to facilitate the transformation of discoveries and inventions generated by UH research into commercially viable enterprises to help broaden workforce opportunities and diversify the state’s economy.

“These new laws bring the University of Hawai‘i a step closer to realizing its full potential to contribute to the state and the public,” said UH Vice President for Research and Innovation Vassilis L. Syrmos. “Additionally, it allows us to keep pace with peer research institutions and to maintain our competitiveness in attracting research sponsors and research talent.”

The first measure, Act 38 (now HRS 304A-121), exempts technology transfer activities conducted by the University of Hawai‘i from the scope of certain sections of the State Ethics Code, and confers the regulatory and oversight responsibilities for such technology transfer activities to UH. Previously, the State Ethics Commission determined whether public-private technology transfer arrangements were permissible or prohibited under general ethic principles.

The second measure, Act 39 (now HRS 304A-1959), provides broad statutory authority to the University of Hawai‘i to engage in activities to support UH-based startup companies. These activities include participating financially directly or indirectly in start-ups, providing strategic marketing and networking resources, and offering hands on instruction and mentoring to the new entrepreneurs. Under its provisions, UH is also given more express authority for certain programs that are currently underway, such as the XLR8UH accelerator, and is patterned after a similar law for the State of Hawai‘i Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

“The Hawai‘i business community believes that the commercialization of intellectual property created by basic and applied research conducted at UH yields great promise in job creation and economic growth in the islands,” said HBR Executive Director Gary Kai.  “Hawai‘i is now one step closer to developing a successful innovation ecosystem based on UH research—a path similar to what UC San Diego research did to dynamically transform their economy.”