CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Will Hartzell, president of Safe Water Systems, credits state business incubation programs for helping his company get started. Safe Water makes a solar-powered purifier to supply safe drinking water in Third-World countries.
Hatching a business
The state is expanding its business
incubation programs statewide
After nurturing promising technology start-ups such as Hoku Scientific Inc. and Blue Lava Wireless, the state's High Technology Development Corp. hopes to help more local entrepreneurs move out of the garage and into the ranks of successful businesses.
The HTDC, which offers a range of business-development services through its incubation centers on Oahu and Maui, will soon make those available to technology-oriented startups on Kauai and the Big Island.
The HTDC is set to take over management of the new Hawaii Incubation Center at Hilo, which will offer promising tech startups below-market rent on office space wired for high-speed Internet.
Tenants at the center, which will have 2,775 square feet of leasable space and opens in November, also will be able to use conference facilities, attend business workshops and have access to professionals that can offer advice on marketing, legal issues and other matters of running and growing a business.
"This is geared toward people or companies that have a great idea, a great product, but OK, now what? How do you turn that into a business?" said HTDC Executive Director and Chief Executive Phil Bossert.
Tenants at the HTDC-run centers are encouraged to "graduate" through a system of slowly rising rents, but Bossert said graduates are quickly replaced by new enrollees and the HTDC needs to expand to accommodate rising demand.
"At the Manoa Innovation Center, we have tenants graduating almost every month only to have their space filled within a few weeks," he said.
The HTDC's "virtual incubation" program also will get a shot in the arm. Established last year, the program carries a monthly fee of $100 which gives participants access to all the ancillary incubation benefits without having to pay for office space. Incubation center rents are generally around 10 percent lower than market rates, Bossert said.
Until now, however, no facilities were available on Kauai or the Big Island. But the HTDC plans to run the program out of the Hilo center and has secured conferencing and other facilities at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii in Kailua-Kona.
On Kauai, virtual facilities will be made available at the Kauai Economic Development Board office in Lihue and the West Kauai Technology and Visitors Center in Waimea, which was co-developed by the HTDC and the economic development board.
The virtual program's expansion was aided by a $300,000 grant to the HTDC from the U.S. Department of Commerce. Bossert said the money will be used for professional services to provide participating businesses with low-cost advice on business matters.
Will Hartzell, co-founder of Safe Water Systems, credits the incubation programs with helping get the his company on its feet.
The company, a Manoa Innovation Center tenant, makes a solar-powered water purifier aimed primarily at supplying safe drinking water in third-world countries. It recently received an order for 84 of the $3,500 units, which Hartzell said will put the company in the black for the first time.
"It would have been a lot harder if we hadn't been here," he said, referring to the Innovation Center.
Past beneficiaries of the incubation program include Blue Lava Wireless, a successful maker of video games for wireless phones, and Hoku Scientific, a rapidly growing developer of hydrogen fuel-cell membranes.
Bossert said the programs on Kauai and the Big Island are strategically located to feed off existing concentrations of technical expertise.
He expects the Hilo facility to attract entrepreneurs in advanced optics fields due to the proximity to Mauna Kea's astronomy facilities. The Hilo facility is a former bank building recently renovated by the University of Hawaii-Hilo, which has contract with the HTDC to run it as an incubation site.
Bossert said the Kailua-Kona facility could feed off the energy laboratory facility, which is geared around ocean sciences, and the West Kauai Technology Center facilities could attract businesses sprouting from a growing dual-use technology community that has grown around the nearby Pacific Missile Range Facility operated by the Navy at Barking Sands.