Think Inc.
A forum for Hawaii's
business community to discuss
current events and issues

HawaiiÕs isolation
makes it hard for firms
to win customers

By Duane Kuroda

I've read and heard about some of the efforts to build start-ups and grow technology business in Hawaii. I hope that my reflections would be useful to others who may care about a former local boy who was part of the brain drain and left Hawaii for better opportunities.

I was asked while speaking at the Biotech Speakers Forum in San Jose, "What factors are important to startups and entrepreneurs like yourself?" My response was simple, "proximity and access."

Proximity and access have deeper implications than the two key words represent. Proximity and access to resources of several types. These include the following: infrastructure, facilities, talent, customers, advisors and funding. Each one of those areas contribute to the success of high-tech areas such as Silicon Valley, and even missing one element can make company establishment, growth and prosperity difficult. In fact, each item could be an article or series of articles.

While I cannot do this topic justice in this overview, I'll touch on the subject of customers. Customers can be trial customers, university customers, development agency customers or John Doe with a purchase order. At various stages of a company's development in high tech, customers are needed to validate, refine and guide the product development process. While this may seem trivial, technology products depend on technology professionals to install, manage, customize and maintain the new technology. That, in turn, suggests that the customers who sign on have a particular risk profile and are willing and able to deal with the setbacks that can occur with new or developing technology.

Similarly, new technology does not have the solid track record that encourages people to buy, and many start-ups, even here in silicon valley, are faced with two common responses: "Why don't you come back when you have several paying customers?" and "What guarantees do I have that you'll be around 5 years from now to support the technology?"

What makes this difficult for any area, including Hawaii, is the location. While it is true that Asia and the mainland United States are "only" five hours away. Winning customers that far away has its costs and its risks.

Therefore, the issue of local customers comes to mind. Local customers who are the buyers of new technology must be available to validate and support the revenue plans of new technology companies. Similarly, local customers willing to buy will also wish to hear from other local customers who they know by name, and have tried the new technology.

Of course more could be explained here, but suffice it to say, that proximity and access to customers are important steps in building a high-tech industry.

Duane Kuroda (Iolani, 1987) is co-founder and
chief executive officer of Intrepic Technologies
in San Jose, Calif. Reach him at

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