Wednesday, January 30, 2002

Hoque takes over
reins of state’s
tech lobbying group

By Tim Ruel

It's an turbulent time to be taking over as lead advocate for high technology business in Hawaii.

Information technology companies like WorldPoint and Ohana Foundation have closed their doors. Biotech firm Aquasearch is in Chapter 11. Square USA has just announced it is closing its Honolulu studio, putting 125 highly skilled people out of work.

"Even though the industry is down there's still opportunity out there," said Tareq Hoque, who recently assumed the role of chairman of the Hawaii Technology Trade Association, a 2 -1/2-year-old lobbying group that was funded by supporters of the local high-tech industry. Previously, Hawaii's tech companies had almost no voice at the Legislature, and were often treated as a special interest group, rather than a growing industry.

Hoque, who was previously vice chairman of the trade association, is planning to formally announce his new job today at a tech event at the state Capitol. To Hoque, 36, the issues that face tech business in Hawaii are not unique.

The companies have fallen victim to the same problems that face all small business in the state: high rents, high insurance payments, high costs of workers' compensation and unnecessary regulation.

For example, a consistent thorn in the side of biotechnology business is a state law that makes it difficult to bring in research specimens for lab work. That issue was identified by Laith Reynolds, the first chairman of the HTTA, before he left the state saying his firm ProBio couldn't find private funding.

After Reynolds, HTTA was led by Jeanne Schultz, marketing manager of Campbell Estate and former director of the state Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism.

In that time, the HTTA has encouraged the state Legislature to pass a number of high-tech investment incentives.

In large part, those incentives have not lived up to their potential, because people aren't clearly educated on how they work, Hoque said.

A small group of firms including HotU, Viata Software, Hawaii Biotechnology Group, AssistGuide and 4Charity have attracted funding, but the deals were typically in the single-figure million-dollar range.

"They have been small," Hoque said, "but it's mainly because they coincide with one of the most depressing funding markets" to hit the overall technology industry. There may not have been any investment without the tax benefits, Hoque said.

Hoque's personal goal for this year's legislative session is to do away with contract provisions that prevent high-tech employees from moving from company to company, known as noncompete agreements. Last year, Hoque stepped down from the company founded by his family, Adtech, only to find that he was bound from starting a similar company.

Several successful high-tech companies, such as Oracle and 3Com, started as spin-offs of other companies, and noncompete agreements make that impossible, Hoque said.

Hoque said he is no longer bound by such an agreement, and he still hopes to start a new company while he works at HTTA.

Hoque's goals for HTTA include:

1) Keep the momentum going.

2) Promote an entrepreneurial culture by highlighting successful companies -- such as NovaSol, Science & Technology International and Adtech -- and not just dwelling on failure.

3) Give the University of Hawaii the resources to produce world-class engineers as well as medical professionals.

4) Increase the effectiveness of HTTA by building on areas such as social networking.

5) Ensure the vitality of business in Hawaii as a whole.

On that last point, Hoque notes the association is working together with Enterprise Honolulu and the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii.

While Enterprise Honolulu will focus on making Hawaii attractive to outside companies, HTTA plans to build the companies that are here, Hoque said.

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