Meaningful Innovation for Aging Populations

My father John Wilbur, a former NFL player, lived with brain and nerve damage – symptoms that describe the phenomena we call “dementia,” where cognitive ability is lost. He passed away this December. Living with him the last year of his life was something that opened my eyes to the diversity of ways we experience the world, especially in a time when over 35.6 million people worldwide have Alzheimer’s or memory loss caused by dementia.


Figure 1. John Wilbur, my hero.

As I became more of a caregiver, the way we related to each other changed yet we remained extremely close and had a great time. One of the traditions my dad and I had was to light incense, breathe together, then put on a record (his favorite was Hair or Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young). Sometimes I would play my guitar for him, or play certain frequencies. He loved to go out for breakfast and read the paper. I even took him for his last swim in the ocean at one of his favorite spots – Mokuleia, North Shore, Oahu. Near the end he did not like water, I believe because of his neurological damage.

My dad’s independence was key for him. Naturally, he didn’t like being treated as though he were a second rate citizen, which sometimes can happen in rehab clinics or nursing homes. For a human, it’s incredibly weird to be treated mechanically, though it understandably can happen due to the drudgery of the work and the shortage of labor in the caregiver industry.

Japan’s government, aging faster than any country, is responding to the challenge of providing caregivers to the elderly with a series of robots designed to support the elderly. This is to supplement the skeleton crew of 1.3m workers in a climate that demands 2m professional carers to look after the country’s 30m elderly and “infirm” as the Economist article said.

One of these robots is a Hybrid Assistive Limb manufactured by Cyberdyne, a nine-year-old robotics venture founded by Yoshiyuki Sankai of Tsukuba University. The battery-powered suit functions as an exoskeleton, sensing and amplifying the wearer’s muscle action when he attempts to lift or carry heavy objects. The suit can be used by carers for picking patients up off a bed. Or it can be worn by patients to help them move around and do things for themselves. These cost ¥178,000 ($1,780) apiece, and they’re sold to various hospitals and welfare facilities in Japan. It is the world’s first assistive nursing mechanism to be certified under a draft international safety standard for personal robots.

The second is a small, battery-powered trolley that helps the infirm to walk by themselves. The third is a portable, self-cleaning bedside toilet. The fourth is a monitoring robot capable of tracking and reporting the whereabouts of patients suffering from dementia. The government wants all to be in production by 2016. There are many more preparing for market.

Givaudan, the perfume company, is taking a different tact and addressing the more complex issue of memory loss and the attendant depression which comes from that. What good are robots for when you don’t have the will to live? Partnering with JWT Singapore, they designed “Smell a Memory” kits to draw on olfactory memories and awaken different parts of the brain for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Consulting with therapists and rehabilitation experts, they personalize the kits based on family history, ethnicity, age and personal stories. Some of the custom smells include “Bedtime Stories”, “Mom’s Cooking”, “Prayer”, “School Days” and more to provoke engagement through experiential smells.

“One of the key therapy goals for Dementia care is to draw people out and help them re-engage with the world and with loved ones. Over time patients often become withdrawn and lose interest in food, activities and the people around them. A tool like this could be critical to their emotional and physical health,” said Andrew Soo, Manager from Soo’s Nursing home.

In a time when our culture is prototyping scent cameras (about the equivalent of an early 35mm), increasingly there will be products and services designed to engage our nonvisual senses and explore the vast spectrum of human consciousness beyond Western normative perception. (And possibly not involving illegal drugs.)

Figure 2. Scent Camera

Relating to people with dementia and Alzheimer’s leaves me with an incredible amount of respect for the process of being so completely “in the moment,” in addition to the journey one goes on while caregiving. Being with my dad as his mind changed certainly felt different, but his personal voice, charm and emotional intelligence were not dulled by the damaged neurons. In line with this gut feeling, a colleague at the Institute for the Future sent me an article on studies that show some of the mental faculties most critical to social relationships – in particular, the ability to infer other people’s beliefs and desires and to engage in moral evaluation – are actually among the least impaired by the cognitive impairments that characterize Alzheimer’s disease. Perhaps we are underestimating our “infirm.”

Following the NFL’s treatment of the issue of brain damage closely, my dad and I were able to witness last year’s call for the NFL’s first grand challenge looking for methods for diagnosis and prognosis of “mild traumatic brain injuries.” A growing issue with retired players, a lawsuit is underway relating to reparations for brain injuries suffered by NFL players. A real old school headbanger, my dad was an All Pro lineman for the Cowboys, the Rams and the Redskins, playing with Pete Gent during his time in the Cowboys and lead by legendary Redskins coach George Allen.

After asking about “dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or other memory-related disease,” Michigan researchers found that 6.1 per cent of players aged 50 and over had received such a diagnosis, five times higher than the national average of 1.2 per cent.

Now the NFL is partnering with General Electric to commit $60 million over four years to accelerate brain research, diagnosis, and treatment. Their “Head Health Initiative” is assembling top military and academic experts to oversee studies on brain trauma, and looking to the crowd for solutions. The second challenge just finished: Innovative Approaches For Preventing and Identifying Brain Injuries.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt, “Player health and safety is our No. 1 challenge.”

With a growing market for dementia and Alzheimer’s related products, it’s surprising the NFL is not focusing more on innovation relating to retired players suffering from dementia. In addition to supporting the retired players, products developed would surely benefit the wider population of elderly suffering from similar symptoms (and turn the corners of their bottom line into even more of a smile).

Entrepreneurs are already meeting this challenge. Aging 2.0 is one incubator/founders program for business models looking to solve problems related to aging – particularly independence.

The UK launched its National Dementia Strategy in 2009 and the Prime Minister’s Challenge on Dementia in 2012, and hosted the G8 Dementia Summit in 2013. As part of the legacy of the UK’s G8 presidency, follow-up hackathon-style events on dementia will be held in the UK, Japan, Canada, Italy and the USA in 2014 and 2015.

There’s real money in these lean startup solutions. At Singapore’s Active Ageing Hackathon, eligible teams were granted up to $50,000 by National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre through its Jump Start Fund, which provides early stage funding to jump start ideas involving volunteerism and/or philanthropy, and prototype them.

There is a substantial need given the aging populations around the world yet there is no one cure or solution which will work for everyone. This leaves room for a diversity of therapeutic and functionality-related products and services.

In the style of Givaudin’s sense-experimentation, could there be positive neuron stimulation from tools that help you see with your tongue or through sound? What about dining in the dark?

Or, as the Osher Center practices, maybe there will be more mindfulness centers geared towards those with dementia and Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.

Will the NFL step up to invest in these kinds of solutions? Maybe so. Or maybe it’ll be the rising NFL players cum entrepreneurs who will see the market potential of these services as well as the benefit which could be delivered to thousands of retired NFL players suffering from brain damage.

How to Make the Future in Burma/Myanmar?

In a couple of weeks I’ll be heading to Burma/Myanmar with the East-West Center, the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies, and the Institute for the Future to prepare for the first ever foresight workshop in the country: the Myanmar Futures Exchange.

What do I know about Burma/Myanmar? A place whose name itself feels heavy with history? (Joining the ranks of Siam/Thailand, Ceylon/Sri Lanka with the Burma/Myanmar split.)

Rudyard Kipling once wrote (cryptically), “It is quite unlike any place you know about.”

Rich in natural resources, and at one time the most prosperous nation in Asia, a brutal military dictatorship from 1962-2011 left much of civil society in poverty and gave few researchers, journalists, or tourists access to the insights within Burma/Myanmar. The inauguration of a democratic government on March 30, 2011 marked a shift in the mood of society with a degree of openness not seen in Burma/Myanmar in half a century. But keeping in mind the wise words of Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, “In politics, you have to be cautiously optimistic.” Under the name of democracy, thousands of people are still killed, raped and wrongfully imprisoned by the military.

Making the international news during times of crisis like Cyclone Nargis or the 2007 Saffron Revolution, much of the world is still getting to know the Burmese people, and their history, values and culture. Yet nestled between China and India, Burma/Myanmar is at the junction of global forces. As it undergoes rapid development and change, this place of radiant natural beauty is set to become an important player in global politics.

This is why, on May 1-2 at the Inya Lake Hotel, over 200 stakeholders across sectors will come together for the Myanmar Futures Exchange to explore the uncertainties, risks, and opportunities confronting Burma/Myanmar as it undergoes this unprecedented change. We will look to the year 2025, because, to quote Aung San Suu Kyi once more, “In terms of the history of a far reaching movement, 20 years is not that long.” Eleven years is hardly anything for futurists. Just ask the Long Now Foundation.

Working on the team that coordinates the Myanmar Futures Exchange, I’ll be in the country during the month of April for on the ground research and development in the form of popup brainstorming sessions, hackathons, and other pre-conference events.

Approaching the country with an open heart and open mind, these four research areas (Knowledge Infrastructure, ICT, Economic Development, and Youth Culture) are my focus while I’m there. Below contains some of my preliminary research in these areas, including notable projects and a brief summary of the state of affairs.

1. Knowledge Infrastructure

Various initiatives are working to build the Burmese information society.

Beyond Access, in part funded by the Asia Foundation, is an organization that aims to transform the country’s vast network of 5000 public libraries into connected information and service hubs. Recently they conducted the first workshop on modern librarianship and community development, a regional library development forum, and participated in the launch of a study the Asian Foundation helped develop on the state of village libraries and information needs.

They’ve partnered with Myanmar Book Aid and Preservation Foundation (MBAPF), who learned their training material and localized it.

MIDO (Myanmar ICT Development Organization) is another group making Myanmar’s future. Conducting ICT training in cities and remote areas—TechCamps sponsored by USAID and Public Affairs Section—MIDO wants “to empower citizens using ICT to address core development and poverty reduction goals.” MIDO also aims to promote “access” and “digital rights” with a multi-stakeholderism approach involving government, journalists, bloggers, social media activists, netizens and international experts so that all voices are allowed and heard.

And a couple weeks ago on March 14th, Team “NilBug” won Myanmar’s first hackathon with a sophisticated Android app that allows farmers to share and receive alerts about nearby pests and diseases.

“I have participated in, judged and run hackathons all over the world and this was one of the best I’ve ever seen,” said Phil Morle. “What these young people achieved this weekend astounded me – and not just the winners. The energy and talent of the Myanmar tech community is inspiring.”

Internews, Ooredoo Myanmar, Ideabox Myanmar, The World BankSingtech Myanmar, Nescafe and Red Bull supported the Code for Change Myanmar Hackathon.

“Myanmar is on the cusp of a technology revolution,” said Internews Senior Strategy Advisor and Code for Change Myanmar Founder, David Madden. “This creates great opportunities to use technology to improve people’s lives.”

The Wikimedia Foundation and Telenor also sees the need for knowledge in this so-called tech revolution and recently expanded their Wikipedia Zero partnership established in early 2012 to now include Myanmar. With the extension of the partnership, Telenor Myanmar’s future mobile subscribers will be able to access the vast knowledge base in Wikipedia free of data charges. And they will be able to freely contribute their voices to Wikipedia. Today some people in Myanmar use Wikipedia, primarily in English, but usage is not widespread. The local Wikimedia community is working to grow the Burmese language version to reach a wider audience.

These networks and organizations, among many others, will play an important role in building the soft infrastructure to support an active and creative civil society.

2. Information and Communications Technology

The Worldbank Knowledge Economy Index ranks Myanmar as second lowest among 157 countries across all key variables relating to ICT, innovation, education and economic incentive/institutional regime; Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perception Index lists Myanmar in the bottom group of countries. It will come as no surprise the current ICT infrastructure in Myanmar/Burma continues the culture of an authoritarian society.

Though the most recent Internet World Statistics (2012) shows that internet penetration is around 1%, the entry of two international telecom operators in 2013, Telenor and Ooredoo, signals these figures are expected to move up fast. The growth of internet access in Myanmar will predominantly be mobile internet access. Right now 7% of the population use mobile phones. ICT development definitely depends on soft infrastructure—building capacity, skills, and mindset to support digital government and ICT reforms.

Myanmar has one of the lowest mobile penetration rates in the world of less than 10 percent – only North Korea and Eritrea have lower rates. The Myanmar government’s stated objective is to increase mobile penetration to 80 percent in the next three years (overall internet penetration is estimated at roughly one percent). Another 40 million people will get mobile service, and many of them will be introduced to the internet for the first time.

Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association claim that “the structure of the new Burmese Internet as modified in 2010 gives the authorities more surveillance options, while reserving the fastest and best-quality access for the government and military.”

They say that Burma’s use of Blue Coat technologies (the Silicon Valley tech company providing internet censorships equipment and services such as Deep Packet inspection) in government agencies raises questions about internet filtering policy and surveillance.

Ooredoo, the other mobile provider, has a history of using Smart Filter, a software similar to Blue Coat which filters content. This is the name of the game for Myanmar’s internet censorship.

Nevertheless, Myanmar pledged to join the Open Government Partnership by 2016. Projects like the Myanmar ICT Development Organization (MIDO) hosted the first ever Myanmar Internet Freedom Forum in Yangon, funded by the Internet Governance Forum.

And civil society sees the great value in data: at a recent workshop held in Yangon to introduce the World Bank’s Open Development initiative, Htong Kham, a student at the Yangon Education Center, said, “We need data, on poverty and social change. Data and information can help us get new ideas, to work with others to find a solution.” This year they’re doing their first nation-wide census with support from the UN, though reports suggest it could incite violence.

Myanmar’s information and internet governance law also requires innovation before any progress can be made on transparency and open data. Currently there exist a number of outdated but still valid laws, such as the “Burma Official Secrets Act” from 1932, instated by the British Colonial regime, which is part of the ongoing discussions on constitutional reform ahead of the 2015 elections.

ICT develop must emphasize open standards and people-centered reforms.

3. Economic Development

According the CIA World Factbook data from 2013, Myanmar’s GDP is US$111.1 billion, with a real growth rate of 6.8% and per capita US$1,700. Exports of natural gas, wood products, pulses, beans, fish, rice, clothing, jade and gems totals US$9.043 billion, although official export figures are grossly underestimated due to the value of timber, gems, narcotics, rice, and other products smuggled to Thailand, China, and Bangladesh.

The transition to a civilian government in 2011 began an economic overhaul aimed mostly at attracting foreign investment and reintegrating into the global economy.  Economic reforms include establishing a managed float of the Burmese kyat in 2012, granting the Central Bank operational independence in July 2013, and enacting a new Anti-corruption Law in September 2013. Flows of people, information, resources and capital have never been more important for Myanmar.

The economy did see an upturn in 2012 and 2013. The abundant natural resources, young labor force, and proximity to Asia’s dynamic economies have attracted foreign investment in the energy sector, garment industry, information technology, and food and beverages. Foreign direct investment grew from US$1.9 billion in 2011 to US$2.7 billion in 2012.

Unfortunately the living standards of a majority of civil society living in rural areas have not improved, and Myanmar remains one of the poorest countries in Asia. More than a fourth of the population—60 million people—lives in poverty. The previous government’s isolationist policies and economic mismanagement left Myanmar with poor infrastructure, endemic corruption, underdeveloped human resources, and inadequate access to capital.

McKinsey and Co estimates Myanmar could quadruple the size of its economy, from $45 billion in 2010 to more than $200 billion in 2030—creating upward of ten million nonagricultural jobs in the process, but only if labor productivity doubles.

Through harnessing digital technology, supporting a structural shift toward manufacturing, preparing for urbanization, and connecting to the world, Myanmar has the potential to become a strong presence in Asia. Certainly, they have the potential to re-invent themselves while learning from the mistakes of others.

Key benchmarks of sustained economic progress would include modernizing and opening the financial sector, increasing budget allocations for social services, and accelerating agricultural and land reforms.

4. Youth Culture

An actively political youth culture in Myanmar shows the tight interconnection between of culture and governance. With 26% of the population is under 14 years old, youth culture will surely continue to play a large part in the shaping the future of this nation (World Factbook).

The imprisonment and killing of students, and the collapse of the education system by the former military government have made it a game of survival to grow up in Myanmar. Looking for cracks in the former dictatorship, hip-hop musicians and artists slipped illusions to drugs, politics and sex past the censors.

In particular, Generation Wave uses street art, hip-hop music, and poetry to express dissatisfaction with the former regime.

“Music is the only language everyone understands,” 9KT, a member of the Generation Wave, told a BBC reporter in 2010.

With a strict policy of non violence, members must be over 17 or under 35 years, live in Burma and be prepared to take risks.

Their campaigns are run inside Burma, but the group has a safe house in the town of Mae Sot, just across the border in Thailand. It is in a quiet lane in Mae Sot, a frontier town with at least as many Burmese as Thais living in it. The transient population is a mixture of migrant workers, traders and political exiles. The Generation Wave house is a place for open discourse, and a place of learning, said the BBC article.

The garage has been turned into a permanent classroom, complete with a white board, overhead projector, desks and laptops. Visiting speakers are invited to provide training on everything from leafleting to graffiti designs.

“When I visited a special tutorial on internet security was being given by a young, long-haired, Thai media expert. There was a lot of talk about Googlemail contacts lists, and Facebook privacy settings and encrypted messages,” the reporter commented.

Graffiti artists are also testing the edges of the emerging democracy. When Obama visited the country in 2012, a large mural of his face between Burmese and American flags welcomed him.

“It was not political, just a way of showing the public new art,” said the 19 year old artist Arka Kyaw.

The next day after the mural was up, he returned to see his mural scratched out. A week later, the government decreed a nation-wide ban on street art. “It’s certainly a good thing that young artists are testing the limits,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch‘s Asia division.

In 2008  local artists organized the first international performance art festival in Myanmar  entitled, “Beyond Pressure,” featuring the works of top graffiti artists from Yangon and Mandalay. “Rendezvous,” an event in 2012, included work from as far away as the UK in a bid to raise Myanmar’s street art profile in South East Asia and promote homegrown artists alongside more established talent, according to organizers, who said it’s the largest urban art event ever held here.

And its worked—the artist behind the Obama mural, Arka Kyaw, is now the first Burmese street artist invited to participate in the Meeting of the Styles street art festival, this year to be held in Bangkok, reports Eleven Myanmar.

With Myanmar’s first ever girl band, Me-N-Ma Girls, touring the world, we here at Open Gov Underground eagerly await the underground hip-hop beats and wild styles of the once tight lipped nation. Surely, it will foster a much needed cross cultural understanding that goes deeper than the economic projections or development goals.

Startup Weekend at the University of Hawaii

This past weekend Shidler School of Business hosted a Startup Weekend at the University of Hawaii. Elementary school kids, undergraduate and graduate students, professionals and retirees represented. There was also a strong Pacific and Asia focus—people from China, Japan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and India all pitched ideas. We began in a cafeteria, pop music blasting, doing a series of ice breaker exercises. We played a gigantic game of rock-paper-scissors, then brain stormed and pitched a business in 5 minutes based on 2 random words. My team’s words were Martian Energy (!) and we pitched a personal satellite company where you could beam down your own mobile signal from outerspace (unsure of the feasibility of this but know CubeSats are awesome).

Whoever wanted to pitch for real lined up and gave their best to the crowd. Some of the ideas were rather incubated, others were made up on the spot. I pitched a project I’m working on right now with my Indigenous Economies class called Ahamaka—a Hawaiian scavenger hunt app similar to XMap. Other pitches included a social network for basketball players to find pick up games, a culture consultant site for Chinese business men, a robot you could control over the Internet, and an online store for board shorts that look like regular pants. “This is an experimental learning exercise,” the moderator Joey Aquino explained. “And if you let them, the right people will just come to you.”

In a way, it was true. Although my pitch didn’t make it to the final round (not enough votes, but close), I did connect with a few amazing individuals who gave me tips as to how to make my platform better. The scavenger hunt has four themes, climate change, malama aina, malama kai, and food justice—each week a different riddle is given that relates back to one of these themes. The user then can either buy hints or watch ads to get new hints. When the user cracks the riddle and finds the physical location of the final prize, they will have discovered and learned something about that week’s theme. A student in the Asian-Pacific Leader program in the East-West Center suggested that the riddles each week could be based in the near future. For example, after a severe storm hits Oahu where would you go to find a generator/clean water/some other resource?

In the end I joined a group called MyRobot (one of the more incubated ideas). Tim Heath and his partner Ryan Hickman (who works at Google’s Doubleclick division) created a simple mobile robot called Truckbot with an Android phone as its brain. Tim wrote the software that allows the robot to be controlled over the Internet, you can turn it left or right and go forward or backward. It’s even possible to stream video from the Android phone to the Internet. The project was covered in Make Magazine and Wired.

Taking this to the next level, we created a social media platform for this kind of social technology. From the printing press to personal computers to mobile phones, the rise of personal, social robotics is on its way.

To give the briefest overview of the field, we have everything from DARPA’s Talon to Paro, the therapeutic robot from Japan. Soldiers, I might add, grow quite attached to Talon…giving it nicknames and even mourning it. Kickstarter is blowing up with DIY robotics projects like ‘B’ the flying car or Botiful. You can make your own drones or satellites with open source microcontrollers or the CubSat. Robots fix power lines, repair sewers, and one very beloved robot is on Mars. But they’re also becoming more human centric, taking care of elderly, and in classrooms. Korea, in fact, invested $36 million to begin implementing these learning aids.

The goal of team MyRobot for the weekend was to begin creating a social media platform and marketplace like Etsy for the DIY robotics community—and their robots.

Screen shot 2013-11-02 at 8.17.47 PM

The idea is that anyone can register themselves, their robots, or their artificial intelligences on the site. They can also register themselves as owners, operators, users, or the companies creating these robots/intelligences. We wanted to bring innovation to market quicker through this peer-to-peer approach. Of course, all our software and hardware are open source.

It’s an exciting time to be alive if you love robots. Cynthia Breazeal’s work is more than an inspiration, as is Hofstadter‘s work with artificial intelligence. 

By the end of Startup Weekend, we were tired. We didn’t win but it felt good to accomplish what we did and it was more than enjoyable doing research on the future of robotics. However, as project after project lined up to give their final presentation, I wondered about the classic problem/solution model of entrepreneurship, and the range of problems we each were attempting to solve with our various pitches. There was us robotics geeks wanting to unleash robots onto the world, a guy who wanted board shorts that could transcend beach/office limitations, two teams who really hated lines at restaurants, and a group that wanted to provide culture specific knowledge to Chinese businessmen traveling the world.

Though many of these groups had solid business plans and reasons why they were valuable monetarily, none of us were launching social ventures, none of us were tackling the really big problems we face like climate change or global poverty. Ok, so maybe it isn’t that easy to do in a weekend, but at the very least it should be a prize category.

Startup Weekend is in fact receiving a growing call to do just this. In this blog post by Michael Cuevas (community manager at UP Global), he responds that in fact all entrepreneurial endeavors are social, sparking a hot debate on LinkedIn. Whether or not that is true, the organization is currently experimenting with different “verticals”— Education, Gaming, University, Green, Mobile, 3D printing, Government, and Social. Future vertical tests will include: Health, Food, Developing Worlds, Art/Design, Media/Entertainment, and Journalism. Each vertical focus is subsequently evaluated for its potential to scale globally.

He explains that the “Social” vertical in Startup Weekend doesn’t work in practice, although it may sound good in theory. There are no experts in “Social” as there are in Health or Government. Furthermore the definition of what “Social” is can differ from person to person and it’s difficult to quantify. Because it’s often described as having a “mission-related impact” or “transformational benefits” for communities/society at large, social ventures are values based and not something judges can make a call on.

Arguably, if you have a venture focused on Government or Health, it’s more than likely a social venture in some way. Cuevas argues that adding “Social” as a category next to those might cast them in an inferior light (no one wants to be anti-social).

Much of the work that seeks to distinguish “social” entrepreneurship is premised on a subjective value judgment about what is “good” and what does or does not constitute a virtuous pursuit. Entrepreneurs of all kinds are out taking risks and trying to solve problems big and small. To draw lines of virtue would introduce, in most cases, a distinction without a difference, something we are unprepared to do with Startup Weekend. Giving something an irrelevant label introduces needless bias and tension, which is destructive to the broader entrepreneurship movement. Let’s focus on the doing component of it, not deciding if something is virtuous or not. The results will speak for themselves.

The difficulty Startup Weekend had in quantifying and defining what makes a venture “social” in operational way is a salient point. This is a longtime discussion. Back in 2007, when the mainstream media began clutching at the buzzword, the Stanford Social Innovation Review attempted to clarify not only social entrepreneurs, but entrepreneurs in general.

Regardless of whether they cast the entrepreneur as a breakthrough innovator or an early exploiter, theorists universally associate entrepreneurship with opportunity. Entrepreneurs are believed to have an exceptional ability to see and seize upon new opportunities, the commitment and drive required to pursue them, and an unflinching willingness to bear the inherent risks.

Building from this theoretical base, we believe that entrepreneurship describes the combination of a context in which an opportunity is situated, a set of personal characteristics required to identify and pursue this opportunity, and the creation of a particular outcome.

Basing the definition off of the core characteristic values of entrepreneurs—inspiration, creativity, direct action, courage, and fortitude—the social entrepreneur “aims for value in the form of large-scale, transformational benefit that accrues either to a significant segment of society or to society at large.” Profit isn’t out of the picture, rather it is one positive outcome among many derived from creating larger social value.

Though I understand the ambiguities of “social,” it is a growing and important trend strong enough to deserve explicit discussion at Startup Weekend—at the least, each team should outline what they see as their companies potential social impact. There is already a dangerous brevity of the event which, for the uninitiated, can tend to make entrepreneurship feel at times mechanistic and topical. Putting social impact on the table might be a way to forge a stronger connection between Startup Weekend and the larger community.

Live Blogging From the Hawaii Economic Association: Hawaii Tourism Authority

The Hawaii Economic Association is putting on their annual conference, this year’s entitled, “The Economics of Innovation.”

Mike McCartney, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

He began with a nautical anecdote. Sailing on the Hokuleia with Nainoa Thompson, all of a sudden the wind shifted and the canoe stopped. “We gotta adjust the sails to catch the wind,” Nainoa said. No one blamed each other for who changed the wind—the crew  knew it was no one’s fault but everyone’s responsibility to untie and tie new knots to change the sail direction and get going again.

“That’s what we have to do in today’s economy,” McCartney concluded. Our wind stopped. Now we have to tie knots to re-adjust Hawaii’s sails if we are to move forward.

So the present scene is set like this:

We have 954 flights a week from 53 departure airports, via 20 carriers. We have access to the world. As the most isolated islands in the world, we need to remain connected to the world, and remain relevant. For example, just 10,000 new university students is $500,000 for the State’s economy.

People continue to come from Japan, China, and Canada — although there’s a threshold for what visitors are willing to spend when they’re on vacation. The breakdown: $400 per Chinese person per day versus $157 per Canadian and $152 per American. We’ve pivoted toward the East by adding new direct flights from Japan to Honolulu on Hawaiian airlines.

Visitors spend about 42 million dollars a day of private capital, and every 47 tourists supports about one job in Hawaii, he said.

What about hotel occupancy and capacity? Oahu is pushing 90% hotel and condominium occupancy, but Maui, Kauai and Hawaii Island don’t have as high an occupancy.

We had about 8 million arrivals this year, each person staying about 9 days on average, spending $200 per person per day on average, a total of 16 billion in revenue.

Future outlook? Still singing the song of continued growth. Longterm, McCartney emphasized that to allow for growth we must expanding capacity out to other areas and neighbor islands is important if we are to have continued growth. Waikiki is an old product. So, for example, we can treat the West side of Oahu as another neighbor island. He added that Ko’olina has massive potential for expansion.

It’s about our people and our culture—how do we differentiate ourselves? Enhance strategic plans to incorporate marketing programs that drive travel demand, and support programs and events that enhance and promote Hawaii’s people, place and culture. Rejuvenate and leverage the “Hawaiian Islands” brand. Focus on increasing airlift to Hawaii, and diversify Hawaii’s portfolio.

“Travel is about making peace,” he said. “‘The world will turn to hawaii as they search for world peace because Hawaii has the key and that key is Aloha,'” he said, quoting Auntie Pilahi Paki.

But we’re not the only one selling vacations in paradise.

He cites Mexico’s “Flip for Cabo” consumer blitz by the Los Cabos Tourism Board. “They’re doing what we did but with a lot more money.”

And Jimmy Buffet announced a partnership with Wyndham to open a 262 unit timeshare resort in St. Thomas. Below he’s throwing a shaka with the Carribean Tourist Association. (Non-ironically, I imagine, although definitely absurd.)

“We gotta lot of competition, that’s why we gotta work together,” he finishes. “It’s not as simple as buying ads.”

Live Blogging From the Hawaii Economics Association: #startupparadise

The Hawaii Economic Association is putting on their annual conference, this year’s entitled, “The Economics of Innovation.”

How to foster high growth business in Hawaii? It breaks down into three categories as Karl Fooks, president of Hawaii Strategic Development Corporation, put it.

Support entrepreneur through mentoring, collaboration, funding; be prepared to pivot and commercialize; and finally, to provide investment capital.

With a small consumer base with limited population, people need to scale globally, and reach outside of the islands. For manufacturing, the biggest challenge is logistics: Hawaii is an expensive place to warehouse. Most business are forced to look outside of Hawaii.

“We thought no one would believe in us if we told our customers we’re from Hawaii. We thought they would say, ‘people never work in Hawaii,'” said Joe Ganahl of Intova. Finally, a year and a half ago, he changed his company’s motto to “born in Hawaii, made for the world.”
The Upside Fund provides seed venture capital to support the University of Hawaii’s strategy to create a 21st century capability for technology innovation to support a multi-billion dollar industry for Hawaii. UH Foundation put $3million, matching the state to the tune of $6million. Where are they looking to invest? Local startups that have global relevance. They also are working to bring in startup capital based in California, and forging connections in Asia as well. The State Pension Fund and Kamehameha Schools (the largest institutional investors in our economy) are throwing their weight into the local innovation scene by getting venture capital funds that support startups outside of Hawaii to bring these new globally scaled companies to our islands to provide jobs.
The State of Hawaii also worked with Henk Rogers to found Blue Startup Accelerator with a 15million dollar fund to support high growth businesses and to create a startup ecosystem.
At Startup Weekend, the HI-tech community began calling themselves #startupparadise.

Figure 1. Startup Paradise

“The community branded itself—and didn’t want to go the Silicon route. We’re #startupparadise,” said Karl Fooks.

Live Blogging From the Hawaii Economic Association: Hawaii Fashion Futures

The Hawaii Economic Association is putting on their annual conference, this year’s entitled, “The Economics of Innovation.”

Melissa May White, Founder and Partner of Hawaii Fashion Incubator, speaks. They are currently hosting Hawaii Fashion Month.

What is the Hawaii Fashion Incubator? Founded in 2006, it promotes Hawaii fashion as an art and industry by fostering a community and providing physical and fiscal resources. With headquarters at the “HIFI Coop” in Ward Warehouse, they are a collective with over 3000 members from all levels of the fashion industry—models, photographers, media, designers, textile manufacturers and more. Their main sponsor is Fractured Atlas, a national organization based in New York that provides support at all levels of the arts/fashion ecosystem.

HIFI provides access to the physical tools the fashion community needs like equipment, shared workspace, a classroom, photo studio, meeting rooms, and more. Rather than working at home, a dynamic shared space can help beginning entrepreneurs grow. Members are connected to the knowledge and experience of the mentors, advisory board and partners.

The membership also includes an evaluation and strategic planning meeting, with HIFI providing customized connections based on the company’s needs and where they are at in their business. Networks are the building blocks of innovation.

HIFI has been success with what White called, “pop up retail platforms” that help designers market test their work, connect to a larger audience, and gain exposure to major legacy Hawaiian companies.

In a smaller market, how to get designers exposed to the world? Digital media is a part of that—for example, Maker Studios channel gets a billion views per month. They’re designed to help get brands exposed to new user bases.

Other ways to put Hawaii on the map include the inaugural Hawaii Fashion Month. The State of Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism partnered with the Hawaii Fashion Incubator to put on Hawaii Fashion Month, designed to let the world know Hawaii is a unique, creative and competitive fashion destination and to bring sustainable growth to an industry that encompasses design, manufacturing, retail, art, education and more.

White also discussed working with Howard Hughes and Kamehameha Schools on the Kaka’ako redesign—a community in the middle of massive transformation as it moves from vacant soft industrial use to a grassroots creative renaissance to mid-price luxury high rises. (It seems these days gentrification is whiplash-fast.)

Eager to partner with the local government and developers working on this project, HIFI, among other local hubs such as POW! WOW!Complete the StreetsFresh Café (hosting Art and Flea and skill share events like BarterBar), and Honolulu Night Market, are hoping to turn into a powerful network like San Francisco’s 5M project that can support the emergence of the “new economy.”

Some game changing technologies White predicts will make a difference in the fashion industry? Smart fabrics, sensors, 3D printing textiles, using renewable or recycled material are important—but what makes a big difference for creatives in the middle of the pacific? The digital platforms, social media networks, online ecommerce platforms are tools we need to tap into.

Live Blogging From the Hawaii Economic Association: Innovation in Food Chain Security

The Hawaii Economic Association is putting on their annual conference, this year’s entitled, “The Economics of Innovation.”

Dr. Gallo, dean of UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, pointed out that in 1778, when James Cooke arrived, the island supported as many as a million people. Hawaii fed a population of a quarter million or more with no help from Matson or Costco.

Figure 1. Hawaii Agriculture

In 1975, the number of tourists exceed 1 million for the first time— yet they were still out populated by chickens. Transportation, mechanization—essentially globalization—made it cheaper and easier to import our food. Our seed industry currently brings in the highest revenue—in addition to coffee, macadamia, algae, pineapple, among others.


We import 85% to 90% of our food. We’re vulnerable to natural disaster, strikes, shipping disruption, changes in physical. What if the boat never comes? We have the land that we need if we 1.1 million acres in farmland. Can Hawaii grow all its own food? In theory, we can make a dent. But it has to be economically viable and farmland needs to be available to farmers. Oh, and we need more of those, too.


Increase public demand to support our local farmers—many chefs are on board by highlighting local produce. How to translate that to homes? Food has to be cheaper than what comes in on the boats.


Dr. Gallo cited GMO research that makes our produce more resilient—including an initiative to support the Hawaiian honey bee. Because 90% of Hawaii farms are smaller than 50 acres, it’s important to support smaller scale operations and cooperatives by managing soil and through experimentation reduce the need for pesticides with heartier plants. Real time testing is extremely important to prevent diseases infecting crops.


Gallo is a big fan of aquaponics—aquaculture with hydroponics, where fish fertilize the plants. College of Tropical Agriculture is doing research to make these truly closed systems that require no external inputs.


“Don’t be so fussy,” she emphasized—go for what tastes better, not what looks better. “It’s been a marketing deceit, in my view.”


Without agriculture, you would be starving, naked, and homeless. Research doesn’t come cheap. The price of agriculture is high. The College for Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources got 20million dollar funding, a 5% increase in funding from the year before, which doubled the amount of State funding the college received. Other supporters include the National Science Foundation, and increased support from businesses and nonprofits which now provides 11% of funding.




“Under what scenario would the boats not come go Hawaii? How much food do we have on the island?”


“We have about 5 days worth of food. Natural disasters do occur—tsunamis, hurricanes. When we do not have food, we have violence. Hunger the number one thing that drives unrest. Look at hurricane Sandy—the possibilities are there. Why should we be vulnerable? Why can’t we be more self sufficient? We should be, because we can produce great products. We’ll never be 100% self sustainable. We’re all guilty because we want what we want all year round. As the most isolated population in the world, out of season fruit and vegetables are shipped 2,500 miles if not much greater, all the use of that fuel, why can’t we grow our own food? There’s not as great a variety, but we need to be more realistic about seasonal food.”


“How to get young people educated and involved?”


“Get the young people and train them in the agronomic aspects, the food science aspects, and also the business aspects. That’s the way to look for value added products. We need to be a resource for information and support research based solutions.”


“How real are the claims of the anti-GMO supporters?”
“As a geneticists, I’m very familiar with the technology. A lot of different things have been combined together to make it extremely confusing to the public. GMO means nothing—it is just a technique and it’s not dangerous on its own. The important thing is what protein are you creating in that plant? It is a powerful technology, and the Federal Government has a long of regulations on it, and it’s quite expensive to do it. So that’s why only large corporations are using it for high profit returns. So people might not like the practices of the company or the proteins they’re created. But it’s wrong to lump all GMOs together. I was angry about the herbicide resistance technology, and the fragility of the Hawaiian ecosystem needs to be taken into consideration. But I know a lot of people that work at Monsanto, and they’re great scientists and nice people. It needs to be evaluated by a case by case basis.”

Live Blogging From the Hawaii Economic Association: Innovation at the University

The Hawaii Economic Association is putting on their annual conference, this year’s entitled, “The Economics of Innovation.”

Dr. Vassilis Syrmos, UH Vice President for Research and Innovation speaks.

Figure 1. University of Hawaii

“What are the underlying structural changes for private and public organizations to meet the challenges we’ll face tomorrow?” asked Dr. Vassilis Syrmos, UH Vice President for Research and Innovation, a man who’s planning on investing millions of dollars in research in the coming years. Though he’s had the position for only six weeks, he’s been at the university for 22 years as a student in electrical engineering, moving the ladder up, and now he’s able to make this vision a reality.

Innovation, he said, is the willingness to fail on the public stage in order for us all to get it right.

To be rolled out in the next six months to a year, the vision of innovation for University of Hawaii has been discussed for over a decade—to grow the research enterprise at the University of Hawaii over a higher edcuation system that spans six islands.

Innovation at the university breaks down like this, explained Dr. Syrmos, 1. creating new knowledge (research and training), 2. world-class human capital (attracting, retaining, and producing) 3. research infrastructure (physical and administrative), 4. investments (state, federal, private, legislation, policy, intellectual property).

“You never do innovation on a shoestring budget with shoestring infrastructure,” he said.

That’s why he’s proposing the fostering of Innovation Hubs—there are already some established with astronomy and ocean sciences, but the plan is to build hubs for health sciences and wellness, informatics data analytics, cybersecurity, and sustainability (energy, climate, food and policy).

There have already been $300million investments in the medical school and cancer center over the last 10 years. “We have one of the most creative cancer centers in the nation,” Dr. Syrmos emphasized.

Though there’s $450 million a year of investments in research, the intellectual property research enterprise is not there to make money, but to educate the next generation of entrepreneurs and scientists. (For some frame of reference, Stanford’s IP portfolio includes thousands of patents, but only 3 make money. One of those is Google.)

“What do we aspire to be? Either we’re going to make it or break it. Hopefully we’ll make it. This time we’re gonna do a better job.”

Revenue for the university was $500 million dollars in 2011, around $450 million now. So what are the investments to be a world class institution?

According to Dr. Syrmos: “First class faculty and retain the faculty, but it’s tightly coupled with the facilities we have. Facilities need to match the research expectation. To have a higher intellectual capital, we need to renovate to innovate.”

Really, it’s all about the ecosystem. Vibrant high-tech community and an active VC community are keys to the success of innovation at the university and in Hawaii.

“We must embrace the physical setting of our institution and become a force for societal transformation.

Crowdsourcing the All Seeing Eye

Ever present cameras in the forms of wearable tech, CCTV, satellite imagery, and drones are presenting the potential for crowdsourced surveillance. There was once a time private investigators hid bulky camcorders in altered purses or briefcases, and video of the world around us was limited by technology. When that footage becomes available for everyone to see, the private eye becoming public could shift the paradigm of surveillance to coordinating efforts and empowering citizens on the ground. Here’s some ways how.

Recently at the Social Good Summit, Kevin Kennedy, chief of integrated training service for the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support, discussed uses for drone video footage on a panel entitled, “Not Just Killing Machines: Drones Can Save Lives, Too”

Drones provide valuable knowledge of the terrain. Kevin Kennedy said the U.N. could use that insight from above, particularly in the expansive Democratic Republic of Congo where there’s not much infrastructure and the land is ravaged by warlords.

Andreas Raptopoulos, who also spoke on the panel, is the founder of Matternet, a social venture intent on building an interconnected network of payload carrying octocopters. In many remote places, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, a rainy season can shut down the only road in town for months at a time. Drones of Matternet aim to soar over this problem by changing how we transport goods so that those who don’t have access to ships and trucks can still deliver and receive medicine, food, and more. Founded by Singularity U grads, the startup has high hopes of growing extensively in the coming years. When military drones are already picking up over 300,000 hours of surveillance footage, if cameras are attached to Matternet’s drones, the footage could be extensive.

Future of cargo

“Peacekeepers who have a primary mandate to protect civilians against armed militias, who know the terrain well and obey no rules, definitely need an understanding of what’s happening on the ground,” Kevin Kennedy said at the Social Good Summit.

This step to surveillance is more of a pivot. John Prendergast co-founded the Enough Project, which aims to end genocide and crimes against humanity, recalled how George Clooney, one of the project’s celebrity contributors, connected the modern dots:

“‘Everywhere I go, the paparazzi is following me,'” Prendergast said, quoting Clooney. “‘Satellites and Google Earth can watch who’s driving in and out of my parking lot. Why isn’t there some way we can watch people committing war crimes and crimes against humanity with the same kind of comprehensiveness?'”

Beyond celebrities and warlords, drone surveillance can also be immensely useful to nature conservation efforts. At TEDGlobal, “drones ecologist” Lian Pin Koh described how drones are used to monitor wildlife crime in Nepal and populations of Orangoutangs in Indonesian rain forests.

Drones help in nature conservation

Another panelist, Whitney Williams, president of the strategic advisory firm Williamsworks, pointed out residents should be involved in what technologies are used in their areas.

“One of the big things that we need to do is just have a dialogue with the Congolese about what they want,” Williams said.

In addition to opening up the discourse on drone technology to citizens on the ground, why not allow them access to the footage?  The U.S. military already approaches experts in video analysis at ESPN to help manage the info-overload.

“We need to be careful we don’t drown in the data,” said David Deptula, a retired Air Force lieutenant general and a senior military scholar at the Air Force Academy.

Engaging online activists, citizen scientists, and individuals on the ground in places like DRC, Nepal, and Indonesia where drones are used for surveillance could not only prove useful but also change the way key stakeholders interact with drones, helping move past the image of “war robots.”

Beyond the drones, Skybox satellites are on their way to making high definition satellite imagery accessible to everyone. Ten years of CubeSat experimentation led to the three founders of Skybox to launch the for-profit endeavor, which (they hope) will change the way we view Earth and space.

Skynet Satellite

“Of the 1,000 or more satellites orbiting the planet at any given time, there are perhaps 100 that send back visual data. Only 12 of those send back high-resolution pictures (defined as an image in which each pixel represents a square meter or less of ground), and only nine of the 12 sell into the commercial space-based imaging market, currently estimated at $2.3 billion a year,” describes the Wired article written about the project in June.

What would this hi-res footage mean exactly? We’re used to static images from space. We can zoom but more or less we’re exploring one high definition still image. But even with the resolution permitted by the US government for commercial purposes, an orbiting satellite (like Skybox) will be able to give us real time imaging of a FedEx truck crossing America or a white van driving through Beirut or Shanghai.

It’s hard to hide from space.

With either software or human eyes tracking this kind of video, big data just got a lot bigger, because the economically, environmentally and politically significant actions of individuals around the world can now be monitored, quantifying our planetary habits.

As the Wired article beautifully finishes: “While Big Data companies scour the Internet and transaction records and other online sources to glean insight into consumer behavior and economic production around the world, an almost entirely untapped source of data—information that companies and governments sometimes try to keep secret—is hanging in the air right above us.”

So far we’ve known drones to search and destroy. But look out, honey, cause we’re using technology, and we ain’t got time to make no apology.

Who will help Hawaii join us in the 21st century?

The call is out for vendors to guide Hawaii’s state government into the 21st century through data interoperability and consolidation of internal processes!

Yesterday, September 17th, Governor Neil Abercrombie and Chief Information Office Sanjeev “Sonny” Bhagowalia submitted a request for proposal for an integrated financial and human resources management system, also known as an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. In other words, they’re searching for a solid mechanic to take a good honest look under the hood, see how Hawaii’s state government conducts business, remove all the duck tape and super glue, and leverage modern technology to redesign the system to make everyone’s life better. At least, that’s the plan.


Figure 1. “HI”-tech

This is key step for the Business and Information Technology Transformation Plan. According to Governor Abercrombie, it has the potential to “dramatically improve the way government conducts its business by reducing labor-intensive, paper-based processes, eliminating the need for duplication of efforts, and allowing state workers to provide improved services to taxpayers faster, more efficiently, and at a reduced cost.”

Consolidating 750 fragmented legacy systems, automation will increase operational efficiency and eliminate more than 120 existing systems. “The state must invest in replacing existing systems that have been used beyond their intended life-cycle,” Bhagowalia added.

“Over the past few decades, the state has made a relatively minimal investment in its core business systems and the supporting technology,” said Finance Director Kalbert Young, who will be guiding this project.

The Enterprise Resource Planning system is a massive leap planned for the state government’s technology, but what does this mean for the humans?

Accurate and near-real time financial, personnel and acquisition data will optimize its resources and help officials make better-informed decisions for budgeting, fiscal planning and policy making. As Sonny put it, the ERP system will “reduce labor-intensive, paper-based processes, eliminating the need for duplication of efforts, and allow state workers to provide improved services to taxpayers faster, more efficiently, and at a reduced cost.”

Many paper based systems and technology more than 30 years old in some cases, and the upgrades are necessary. But on a day-to-day level,  many public servants have been used to doing things a certain way for a considerably long time. In short, this transformation portends a major shift in behavior and culture within Hawaii’s government.

As citizens, high ranking officials, and grunts alike prepare for the changes the transformation will elicit in the next 10-15 years, Hawaii will be striving to make this process as transparent, participatory, and collaborative as possible.

Transform Hawaii Government-The Movement, a non-profit grassroots coalition partnered with the Hawai’i Community Foundation, is striving to take this opportunity to engage meaningfully with Hawaii’s people, and collaboratively create our future.


Figure 2. Transform Hawaii Government coalition is actively seeking feedback from businesses, non-profit organizations and Hawaii citizens on ideas that can improve the way Hawaii State Government provides services. 

The coalition will also be taking part in the Hawaii Nonprofit Conference: “Changing the Game: A New Conversation“, with the Hawaii Alliance of Nonprofit Organizations (HANO), register here.

Follow Transform Hawaii Government on Twitter or like them on Facebook to join us in laying the groundwork for Hawaii in the 21st century and beyond on.

If you are a vendor looking to participate in the ERP request for proposal process, you must register to use the Hawaii State eProcurement (HIePRO) systemRegistration information is available at the State Procurement Office website at