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December 17th, 2014 by Ryan Ozawa · Business, Hawaii, Startups, Technology

Innovation Framework Forward

Last week brought a preview of the “Hawaii Innovation Assets” report, compiled by the Hawaii Business Roundtable. The report, due to be released soon, identifies the state’s innovation assets and highlights the importance of growing the research and innovation sectors for future economic growth.

Although the HBR Innovation Assets Report has yet to be released, you can listen to American Savings Bank CEO Richard Wacker share some of the highlights on last week’s episode of Bytemarks Cafe.

But a second report focused on Hawaii innovation was just released to less fanfare. Enterprise Honolulu (part of the Oahu Economic Development Board) has just published “The Innovation Framework Forward,” featuring specific recommendations that would further Hawaii’s economic transformation.

Compiled by Yuka Nagashima, former executive director of the High Technology Development Corporation, the “Framework” report features input from a wide spectrum of stakeholders and leaders from Hawaii entrepreneurs and established business owners, to policy leaders and economic development experts. From these different perspectives, the report assesses the status quo as well as many different visions of the future predicted for Hawaii.

From those visions comes a call for “innovation driven growth,” rather than racing to rescue the latest vertical sector from decline.

“Hawaii’s economic growth in the last 20 years still lags behind the national average, despite the recent recovery of the tourism industry,” Nagashima writes. “If we are to provide the quality of life we have come to expect or to leave a better Hawaii to the next generation, we must change how we approach economic development in our community.”

How big is Hawaii’s “innovation economy”? Nagashima cites the HBR Innovation Assets Report (and its contributors, including UHERO and DBEDT) in estimating the current size of the “innovation economy” to be about 65,000 jobs. That includes over 27,000 jobs in the “core tech sector,” and over 21,000 jobs in the “creative sector.”

Key recommendations from the report include:

  • Provide dedicated funding streams or mechanisms for innovation initiatives.
  • Align and support initiatives that contribute to the infrastructure, the talent development, and the capital needs of the innovation ecosystem.
  • Shift university research commercialization from an exclusive license model to the transferring projects model.
  • Identify a go-to entity devoted to innovation that is respected by both the private and public sectors.
  • Agree on the metrics for innovation performance and the methodology, and designate a state entity to consistently report on the agreed-upon metrics.

Nagashima talked to a great mix of people, from Henk Rogers and Eric Nakagawa to Richard Lim and Kathryn Matayoshi. I was honored to also participate in her interviews.

The full report can be downloaded as a PDF from the Enterprise Honolulu website.

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December 11th, 2014 by Ryan Ozawa · Government, Hawaii, Technology, The Web

Measuring Broadband

There are many ingredients needed to foster a thriving technology industry in Hawaii, but one of the most critical needs continues to be widely accessible, high-speed internet access. The “Measuring Broadband Hawaii” project, announced this week, will collect hard numbers on how well Hawaii’s internet service providers are serving this need.

The project is the latest phase of the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs‘ ongoing broadband initiative, following on the heels of the “Hawaii Broadband Map Project.” That earlier phase called on Hawaii residents to voluntarily report their internet speeds. While useful, participants were self selecting, and not necessarily representative of most broadband customers. So now the DCCA is now looking for volunteers that will let them go straight to the source for concrete network performance information.

The “Measuring Broadband Hawaii” project will involve volunteers installing a small modified router at their locations that will constantly measure the up-down speed, latency, and other aspects of the internet connection. The DCCA notes that it will only take measurements when the network is idle, and emphasized that the hardware does not look at packets, content, or other information about what the volunteer is doing on the network.

Volunteers will have real-time access to information on the performance of their internet service, which may be a good incentive to participate. Indeed, the “Measuring Broadband” project is part of a national collaboration with the FCC, and one objective is to compare actual internet speeds delivered to the speeds advertised by providers. Fortunately, Hawaii’s two largest local internet service providers, Oceanic and Hawaiian Telcom, are working with the state on this initiative.

The DCCA is paying for the hardware and the FCC and its contractor SamKnows is handling the capture and compilation of the data. These fixed broadband tests will be conducted nationally, collecting large-scale, randomized, statistically sound performance data from across the country. Even so, there is an emphasis on measuring broadband penetration on rural communities.

The DCCA will be recruiting volunteers for the next couple of weeks, with the hopes of sending out the ‘whiteboxes’ in the first week of January. For more information, or to volunteer to participate, you can visit, or the DCCA website at

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December 9th, 2014 by Ryan Ozawa · Business, Real Estate, The Web


The mainland real estate firm Movoto is moving into Hawaii. But if you’ve been paying attention, yesterday’s news probably isn’t much of a surprise.

Indeed, if you’re a local blogger — particularly one who pays a lot of attention to SEO and social content marketing strategies — it would have been impossible to not hear about Movato over the past few months. Because the folks at Movato, obviously aware of the company’s expansion plans, have been posting up a storm about Hawaii.

As early as April, I was getting emails from them calling attention to their latest Hawaii article. And eventually, their posts were unavoidable, carefully crafted to be shared on Facebook. Every blog post title, featured photo, and topic was a cruise missile of viral content that undoubtedly drove a lot of Hawaii-focused traffic to their website. Check out their headlines:

And their video posts have headlines that are almost parodies of viral content:

I’m sure the numbered listicles and breathless headlines will continue to flood in.

Movoto is a licensed brokerage in over thirty states, and as PBN reports, already has agents in Aiea, Ewa Beach, Kailua, Kaneohe, Mililani, Pearl City, Waimanalo, Hauula, Kaaawa, and Honolulu.

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December 7th, 2014 by Ryan Ozawa · Business, Technology

I’ve been playing with Slack, an incredibly popular communications tool described as no less than an “email killer.”

The company behind it was cofounded by Stewart Butterfield (who co-founded Flickr, another service I love), and hit a $1 billion valuation in October, even though it’s barely been around a year. Slack has over 120,000 users across more than 2,000 organizations, and those numbers grow five to ten percent each week.

But what are those users doing? What exactly is Slack?

I practically run my life out of my Gmail inbox, so an “email killer” sounded like something that could turn my world upside down. As it turns out, Slack has a much more focused purpose than email. What it could kill, as far as email goes, is the inevitable nightmare that is email within an organization.

Who hasn’t pulled their hair out over a Reply-All company-wide thread that refuses to die? Or missed a meeting because you weren’t copied on the announcement? When it comes to email within a team, it often causes as many problems as it solves.

In buzzword terms, Slack is an instant, accessible, searchable platform for group communications. It’s all the rage among startups, for sure, but even old-fashioned corporations are using is as well.

You could call Slack “groupware,” but it’s not the ’90s anymore. You could call Slack a “group chat” service, but that would be overly simplistic — after all, a company might already have instant messaging via Skype, and that can still be a mess. It could smell like a message board, but that conjures visions of clunky corporate intranets. I want to compare it to a private IRC server, but who the heck knows what IRC is anymore? Besides, Slack is actually easy to use, user friendly, and works beautifully across computers and mobile devices.

slackchannelsSlack works for groups of all sizes. A company or a department, a club or a social group, a distributed development team or students in the same classroom. Accessible via the web and native mobile apps, you can easily stay in touch. And unlike email, which is a 40 year old technology we’re still bending and twisting ourselves to work around, Slack was built to help people work the way they work today.

Think of the worst-case Reply-All email scenario. Everybody might want to know about something, but not everyone needs to know about it, some people might not want to hear about it, and someone who was supposed to get the message will inevitably be left out. You have email groups for each department, meanwhile, but departments have to work with each other, and not every member of each department is involved in the same projects. Email messages fly in every direction, pile up in inboxes, and managing you inbox is suddenly a job on top of the job you’re supposed to be doing.

With a Slack group, you get channels. You can have channels for departments, for specific projects, or for any sub group within your organization.

For example, there’s a #general channel that everyone is in by default, so you can tell everyone about the coffee cake in the lunch room. There’s even a #random channel for those funny cat photos. Meanwhile, everyone working on the new marketing plan can be chatting away in #marketing, without bothering anyone else.

But when the guys in #development want to know how things are going with the next ad campaign, they can click over to the #marketing channel to catch up (and vice versa). Of course, it’s also possible to create private channels (be it #surpriseparty or #worlddomination).

And everything is searchable. Who was that guy we met with yesterday? Which restaurant did the boss like? Ah, there it is.

And in place of person-to-person emails, you can send direct messages to other team members. But because these messages look and feel like instant messages (like SMS or IM), interactions are lighter and faster. You don’t get bogged down in salutations and clever signoffs and making your point with three well-crafted paragraphs. You just say what you have to say and get things done.


Fortunately, Slack isn’t just for typing. You can post photos, PDF files, self-contained posts and code snippets, for starters. And because this is a modern tool, there are many direct integrations ready to connect to the other modern tools your team might use: Drobox, Google Drive, GitHub, and more. Slack doesn’t try to do everything or replace anything (except, I guess, email), so it plays nicely with seemingly anything else you already use to do your work.

Again, though, Slack isn’t just for work. I got interested in it because a friend of mine who plays Ingress said it was what his local team was using to both strategize and talk story. People set up Slack groups for one-off projects like planning a conference or a wedding. And yes, you can be a member of more than one Slack team.

Finally, the kicker? This immensely popular tool that is playing a pivotal central role in many companies is free. Declares the homepage: “Slack is free to use for as long as you want and with an unlimited number of people.” In other words, the basic functionality of Slack is available for you to try or even use at no cost.

Of course, Slack wants to make money, and it does, even at a pricey $7 per user per month. And the only difference between a free and a paid Slack account is how far back you can search (you can go back 10,000 messages for free), more storage (5GB is free) and how many integrations you can hook up (five are free). For some companies, Slack becomes so critical, it’s worth paying for. But otherwise? You can jump right in.

As you can imagine, though, trying out Slack is no fun by yourself. So I created a Slack group at and have invited as many cool Hawaii geeks, techies, and creatives that I can think of. If you’d like to join our motley crew, whether to just kick the tires or to hang out and talk story, just let me know your e-mail address and I’ll send you an invite!


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December 2nd, 2014 by Ryan Ozawa · Education, Events, Science, Technology

Acton & Trosper
A former astronaut turned renowned physicist and a project manager from NASA’s Mars Curiosity mission will be in Hawaii next week. They will both be featured at “Reach for the Stars,” a special public event hosted at the University of Hawaii on Wednesday, Dec. 10.

Loren W. Acton flew on Space Shuttle Mission STS-51-F in 1985, orbiting the Earth 126 times. Now a research professor at the Montana State University’s Department of Physics, Acton had to train for seven years for his mission aboard the Challenger. He will be a featured speaker at the event, along with Jennifer Trosper from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Trosper  was the Surface Operations Mission Manager when Curiosity landed on the Red Planet, leading the tactical team that would daily build commands to send to Curiosity. She went on to become the Deputy Project Manager for the entire Curiosity mission.

Reach for the Stars Event Flyer“Reach for the Stars” is hosted by the UH mathematics department. Following presentations by Acton and Trosper, there will be hands-on STEM activities for attendees: rocket launching, propeller flying, and Hawaiian compass building, as well as robotics demonstrations and 3D asteroid simulations.

The event, taking place at Campus Center from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., is free and open to the public. Students from several parts of the island will be bused to the UH campus, as well as from the shelter from the Institute for Human Services.

To learn more about “Reach for the Stars,” tune into Bytemarks Cafe tomorrow at 5 p.m. on Hawaii Public Radio 89.3FM (or streamed online). We’ll be joined by Monique Chyba, professor and associate chair of the UH Department of Mathematics, for a quick preview.

Photos: MSU Physics Faculty & JPL/Enjoy Space.

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November 30th, 2014 by Ryan Ozawa · Art, Events, Hawaii, People

Kimee Balmilero

My first introduction to Kimee Balmilero was on “Hi-5,” a kids’ show on Discovery Kids that my family would watch. (We had our TiVo set to always have the last ten episodes on tap.) My wife, who has a good sense of these things, said, “Kimee sounds local.” Sure enough, a quick Google revealed that she was a Castle High School graduate who had made it to Broadway and then TV.

She visited home often, leading improv workshops while in town, and returned full-time to Honolulu in 2012. She dove headlong into the local music and arts scene, teaching improv, musical theater, stage presence, public speaking, storytelling and other skills. She’s worked with BizGym, LeiHut, and Mid-Pacific Institute.

Having fostered the love of improv in the islands, Kimee is now organizing a special event next year to celebrate sketch comedy and local theater. She’s launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to make The Hawaii Sketch Comedy Festival a reality.

“We will have two fun filled days of some major LOLs featuring live shows, screenings, panels, workshops and more.” she explains. “We wanna help revive the golden comedic days of ‘Raps Hawaii’ and ‘Booga Booga’ and to showcase the creative entrepreneurs of the world: writers, actors, comedians, directors, videographers and more.”

“In addition to wanting to make people laugh, [the festival] is dedicated to empowering artists — the creative entrepreneurs of our world,” Kimee adds.

The goal is to raise $10,000 by January 22. The money will go toward space rentals and travel and lodging for “master instructors.” The funds will also help promote the event via badges, shirts, stickers, and other marketing material. And Kimee notes that the event’s main organizing entity is StoryU Arts, a division of the non-profit BizGym Foundation.

As with most crowdfunding campaigns, there are perks for backers. For $10 you’ll get a sticker, for $30 a T-shirt, and you get tickets to the main events (and a shirt) for $75. Indiegogo is also the way to sign on as a silver, gold, or platinum sponsor, and for $5,000, you can be the event’s title sponsor.

The Hawaii Sketch Comedy Festival already has a date (March 28-29, 2015) and a main venue (the Honolulu Museum of Art’s Doris Duke Theater). But to make the magic happen, it needs your support.

For more information, visit, the Indiegogo page, or follow the event on Facebook, on Twitter, or on Instagram.

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November 29th, 2014 by Ryan Ozawa · Pop Culture, The Web, Video

The Farce Awakens 2

Going viral. It’s the internet’s top prize, like winning the online lottery, the dream of nearly every artist, media maker and marketer on the web.

This Thanksgiving holiday weekend, the teaser trailer for next year’s new “Star Wars” movie went viral. It was everywhere. A mere 90 seconds of footage watched by millions of people, and generating endless volumes of enthusiasm and cynicism alike. And ready to ride that massive wave of fandom is “The Farce Awakens.”

Yes, it’s  the “Force Awakens” trailer translated into internet speak, from Nyan Cat to Lord of the Rings. After all, one solid recipe for going viral is combining several memes. The parody video was posted today as the first official piece of original content from the Mana Mai Tai Company.

Mana Mai Tai is a “geek content troupe” founded by husband-and-wife photographers Ed White and Dallas Nagata White, and visual effects and motion graphics artist Gabriel Yanagihara. Additional collaborators include Civil Beat community manager Gene Park, “web and video junkie” Kaeo Kepani, Charlie Shackford, Randall Parabicoli, and others.

The team already has experience going viral, including getting links on the front page of Reddit (which declares itself “the front page of the internet”). For Ed and Dallas, a post about Dallas’ “Halo” costume garnered over 3,300 votes, and another for “Assasin’s Creed” got over 2,700 votes. Lava photos are also surefire hits. Gabe, meanwhile, has done well with posts about Oculus and Minecraft.

Now, they hope to turn their frequent viral successes into a solid hit factory.

“If you guys have heard of Rooster Teeth or Penny Arcade, that’s kind of where we want to go with Mana Mai Tai,” Ed explains.

As for their first video?

“It’s also our prediction of what the internet will do — is doing — with the Star Wars franchise,” he says. “Hence the tag line, ‘Disney brings Star Wars to a new generation. A new generation plasters it with internet memes.'”

Indeed, the Manu Mai Tai video will be going up against the first apparent winner in the “Star Wars” trailer tributes: “Lego Star Wars: Episode VII.”

Wherever the Mana Mai Tai Co. goes, they’re worth following. You can sign up on their website to receive an email newsletter featuring original content on geek and gaming culture. You can also follow the troupe on Twitter, Facebook, YouTubeInstagram., and Google+.

While we wait for their next creative brainstorm, there’s always “The Farce Awakens.”

The Farce Awakens 3

The Farce Awakens 3

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November 28th, 2014 by Ryan Ozawa · Events, Startups

HVCA EventThe Hawaii Venture Capital Association, in association with the Hawaii Business Roundtable, is presenting a panel discussion next week on “Growing Hawaii’s Innovation Economy.”

The event will include keynote remarks from Berkeley professor Enrico Moretti, author of “The New Geography of Jobs.” In addition, HBR will preview its upcoming “Hawaii Innovation Assets Report,” which identifies Hawaii’s current innovation assets and highlights the importance of growing the research and innovation sector in generating future economic growth.

The panel includes Dan Leuck, CEO of Ikayzo, Darius “Bubs” Monsef of, American Savings Bank president Rich Wacker, and Switchfy CEO Tina Fitch.

The event will take place from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday, December 4, 2014 at the ProtoHub at 458 Keawe Street in Kakaako. For more information, visit

Meli James, president of the HVCA and director of Blue Startups, previewed the event on Hawaii Public Radio on Wednesday. Listen here:

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October 25th, 2014 by Ryan Ozawa · Environment, Science

The slow-moving Puna lava flow crossed its first road in Puna, a long-anticipated milestone in a creeping natural disaster that has been unfolding since June 27. With the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Iselle in August fresh in their minds, the folks at Hawaiian Electric Light Co. hatched a plan to try and protect their electric power lines in Puna from a force of nature that is largely unstoppable.

Photo from HELCO

HELCO came up with a number of contingency plans, including building “pole protection prototypes” to protect power poles from the heat generated by the lava by partially encasing select wooden poles with heat resistant and dispersive material. The Hawaii Tribune-Herald explains:

[It] begins by wrapping the wooden pole with a blanket-like strip of thermal insulation. Then, a large concrete dry well pipe about 9 feet in diameter and 6 feet tall is placed at the base of the pole, and wire horse fencing is used to create an approximately 15-foot retaining wall around the pole. An excavator is then used to fill up the wall with porous cinder. The bottom of the whole structure is then covered over with a mound of loose cinder to protect the dry well pipe.

“The design has gone through many different iterations. It’s something that was developed internally in consultation with experts,” HELCO spokeswoman Rhea Lee told the newspaper. “This is experimental, we don’t know if it will work. But we hope it will.”

Among the “experts”? Big Island school kids, students at the Hawaii Academy of Arts and Science, a charter school in Pahoa.

It makes sense. Molten lava may reach temperatures in excess of 2,000 degrees, but it also behaves largely like a viscious liquid. There’s not much lateral force, so if an object can survive direct contact long enough, the lava might just flow around it, cool, and leave it standing. And while poles are made of wood, and wood burns, Lava Tree State Monument is proof that lava versus wood isn’t always a one-sided battle.

When I posted about it on Facebook a few weeks back, someone noted that the structure looked a little like a “Doctor Who” villain. It kinda did, and my long-time online friend Sharon Westfall helped illustrate it today:

HELCO/Hawaii Tribune-Herald

Well, the first test of this “Emergency Dalek” came today. And according to KHON, it’s working. HELCO says:

“We are encouraged by the initial result of the pole protection design, but the long term results are still not determined. We will continue to closely monitor the flow and its effect on our infrastructure. As the lava flow progresses, we expect the lava will rise and inflate. This is the second test of our experimental design.”

And tonight, Denise Laitinen, a friend, emergency preparedness organizer and Puna resident, posted another photo from HELCO that showed the prototype in action… a scene that would be right at home in a science fiction show.

Denise Laitinen/HELCO

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October 14th, 2014 by Ryan Ozawa · Events, Startups


It’s been quiet on the Startup Weekend front, with the last Honolulu event held in February and a Maui event in May. But Hawaii will be back in the mix next month as part of the Global Startup Battle, taking place Nov. 14-16. The Honolulu event will take place at BoxJelly in Kakaako.

Startup Weekends are 54-hour events designed to provide superior experiential education for technical and non-technical entrepreneurs. Beginning with Friday night pitches and continuing through brainstorming, business plan development, and basic prototype creation, Startup Weekends culminate in Sunday night demos and presentations. Participants create working startups during the event and are able to collaborate with like-minded individuals outside of their daily networks.

The worldwide event is part of Global Entrepreneurship Week.

Global Entrepreneurship Week is the world’s largest celebration of the innovators and job creators who launch startups that bring ideas to life, drive economic growth and expand human welfare… During 2012 alone, presidents and prime ministers from 20 countries supported Global Entrepreneurship Week while 93 ministers from 54 countries participated.

Early bird tickets are available for $75 until Oct. 31.

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