VC Summit Highlights Hawaii’s Startup Stars


Last week’s 2013 VC Summit highlighted the collective progress that Hawaii’s startup ecosystem has made over the past year, and showcased the ever-increasing quality of tech, biotech, and energy startups being launched locally.

This event, produced by Sultan Ventures and the Hawaii Strategic Development Corporation, and sponsored by nearly every facet of Hawaii’s entrepreneurial community, brought together both investors and entrepreneurs to share ideas, challenges, and future plans. From the opening crowdfunding workshop to the Google-driven keynote to the presentations from Energy Excelerator and Blue Startups teams, the 2013 VC Summit demonstrated the ever-expanding opportunities for local entrepreneurs.

VCSummit2013While Hawaii’s usual suspects (Startup Capital Ventures, HVCA, Hawaii Angels, etc.) were all represented on stage and in the crowd, it was refreshing to also see Hawaii’s new, progressive crop of younger entrepreneurs taking the stage and injecting the ecosystem with the next generation’s views and ideas.

Bryan Butteling, the local organizer behind Startup Weekend, talked about how his initiatives are exposing more and more younger people to the entrepreneurial world. Nick Bicanic, of Maui’s Mbloom, not only mentioned his team’s closing of a $10 million venture capital fund but also livened up the “startup paradise” panel with his direct and unreserved comments (of which Hawaii needs much more, IMHO). And while the old guard offered sage advice built upon years of experience, it’s this new generation on which our State’s startup hopes are pinned.

The stories from the local and active entrepreneurs showed, again, a great contrast between those who’ve broken out and are building big (hopefully) success stories for Hawaii against those up-and-coming startups, full of energy and enthusiasm yet on the earlier side of their businesses.

For the more experienced entrepreneurs, the audience heard from David Watamull, CEO of Cardax Pharma, which has raised over $25 million and is working on a reverse IPO, and SKAI Ventures’ Hank Wuh, whose TruTag Technologies┬árecently raised $13 million. On the early stage startup side, Blue Startups offered pitches from their current crop of accelerated teams, with startups and ideas as diverse as Gibi, a pet tracking technology leveraging GPS and smartphones, to Ritify, whose memory preservation technology was but a mere idea less than a few months ago.

Stealing the show on the entrepreneurial side, however, was Dawn Lippert and her Energy Excelerator team. While Lippert’s opening welcome and background video surely tugged at the heart of everyone in attendance, her lifelong commitment to building a cleaner, more energy-efficient Hawaii was beyond inspiring. Even more, the Energy Excelerator’s successful drive to pull in $30 million in funding gives Hawaii’s energy-minded entrepreneurs a fantastic opportunity to see some of their more promising dreams have a chance at success.

At the Summit, four Energy Excelerator-supported companies pitched, including TerViva, which is working to commercialize the pongamia tree as a sustainable, Hawaii-grown biofuel crop, and Ibis Networks, an energy management company built using “smart socket” technology spun out of Honolulu’s Oceanit.

Overall, Hawaii’s star entrepreneurs and the VC Summit continue to raise the bar for the experience and success that’s to be expected from our local ecosystem. Not only should this help to get some of the State’s best startups noticed by mainland VCs and customers, it should also help to bring in more investment and more talent, which is good for both startups and established corporations, regardless of their industry.