Hawaiʻi's Technology Community

Featured Techie: Keiki-Pua Dancil, CEO of HiSciTech, the State's Largest Tech Advocacy Organization

Our Featured Techie post is usually a love fest, a testament to amazing things that some
geek in Honolulu has accomplished, often against serious odds. This month's
 belated Featured Techie is different. This is not to say that Keiki-Pua Dancil
 doesn't have technology chops. Coming off a gig at one of a handful of biotech
 startups in Hawai`i , Keiki-Pua (she prefers to be called that) is a rare combo
 of bio smarts and business savvy. She sports a Harvard MBA and PhD in 
biochemistry from the University of California - San Diego, one of the top
 biochem schools in the country, if not the world. The doctorate she got in
 three years (I believe the average for biochem is five-to-six years). 

A Maui native and Kamehameha Schools grad, Keiki-Pua has also been published in a number 
of journals including "Science", an honor that few academics achieve in their
careers (and she was never an academic). For the past few years she served as
 Executive Vice President of Synedgen (formerly Hawai`i Chitopure), a diversified medical 
technology company. Keiki-Pua was involved in developing the manufacturing 
component in Honolulu for a raw-material product derived from shrimp shells 
that would be used for various anti-bacterial and medical applications. 

So its clear that Keiki-Pua has chops. But I want to talk here about Keiki-Pua in her new role as the President and
 CEO of Hawai`i Science & Technology Council/Institute (HSTC/HSTI) ( ed: note to BOD -- change the name, please? Shorter?). For those who don't know 
what this organization is, HSTC/HSTI is an industry trade and lobbying group that
 seeks to facilitate high tech economic development in Hawai`i . Here's the 
mission statement from the HSTC/HSTI Web site: "Our mission is the
acceleration of Hawai`i 's science and technology economy through the provision
of services to industry including advocacy, enterprise support, the enhancement 
of research collaboration, group purchasing and sector research." This 
mandate covers a raft of industries including astronomy, aquaculture,
information technology, and greentech, among others. 

It's a worthy mission. But this is, realistically, a difficult time to pursue such 
an agenda. The yawning Hawai`i state budget deficit (over $1 billion and counting) has made 
any sort of material government assistance or tax credits in high technology development impossible. And who would expect anything different, when the public schools are closed on Fridays and the University 
of Hawai`i is taking huge cuts? 
The end of Act 221 has also left some deep divisions in Hawai`i between key players in the high tech 
space (in politics, on the finance side, and among entrepreneurs and tech organizations).

So the task
falls to Keiki-Pua to push the emerging Hawai`i tech sector forward with scant resources and to ho'oponono 
the divided community. This community, all wants the same things -
more technology development in Hawai`i , more good jobs for the islands, more 
tax dollars for the cash-strapped state. 

I spoke to her for a while about this and it was clear that Keiki-Pua has no
 illusions about the difficulties she faces.

What impressed me was her basic 
vision for laying a simple groundwork that would serve Hawai`i's tech
community so well in the future and would cost very little. Keiki-Pua is not
 swinging for the fences, looking for IPOs or big grants or credits from Uncle Sam or the Leg . Rather, she thinks that improving communications, listening better,
talking more quietly, and considering all points of view could go a long way
 towards creating a more inclusive and more cohesive tech development effort.
"I want to re-engage members and build up the (HSTCI/HSTI) membership again. Everything 
emanates from a strong membership," Keiki-Pua says. "Part of that means we need to get a good 
representation from all sectors. We represent 10 different technology sectors.
I'd like to get more voices at the table so we can make sure we are doing
something for all of them," 

Another item on her agenda: getting the various technology groups together and 
creating goals and campaigns they can all agree on. In a nutshell, 
Keiki-Pua is intent on smoothing over past differences and creating a united 
front. "That means reaching out to other established groups like TechHui,
helping them, all of us helping each other, and working together," she
 says. Keiki-Pua is aware that in a small place like Hawai`i , cohesion is even 
more important because it is twice as powerful and resonates with the state's 
inclusive cultural and diverse social quilt. Perhaps easier said than done but 
its encouraging to hear her talk about it. Plus Keiki-Pua has the killer smile 
to back it up.

Other things Keiki-Pua hopes to do is forge new collaborations between 
industry, academia and schools. Keiki-Pua herself came back to Hawai`i initially in 1999 to work as a chemist
 at Trex Industries on Kauai where she helped recruit a National Merit Scholar and
 Hawai`i State Science Fair winner 
who was working as a mechanic in Lihue to help run the advanced chemistry projects. "There are 
lots of opportunities out there that we can take advantage of which cost
 nothing and reap enormous rewards. The Chamber of Commerce, through Hawai`i Department of Education, has a senior
 project program for high school kids. It's a tremendous way to get ambitious 
students into technology companies here and its something I am going to
 broadcast to my members and encourage as a way to further education here but
 also to help our startups by giving them access to capable young minds" says Keiki-Pua. "The 
Maui Economic Development Board has an incredible STEM jobs and internship
 program. It costs almost nothing. So how can I grow that type of program on Oahu?"

Another area where she hopes for some progress is to work with the State 
Legislature to pass bills that can streamline regulations and requirements for 
tech companies, or other zero-cost ways to smooth a path to development. Says Keiki-Pua "We are looking at things like
 bills making it easier to build renewable energy plants in conservation zones.
This could be very helpful but isn't costly. Its little wins like that we're 
thinking about this year." Even baby steps are quite a feat in a climate
 that has so many states - including Hawai`i - slashing budgets and struggling to survive.

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Comment by Lisa Erickson on January 24, 2013 at 7:26am Has some updated information.

Comment by Kevin Luttrell on February 9, 2010 at 9:57am
Wonderful introduction. I wasn't aware of the the staff change. Welcome aboard.
In 2007 I had the pleasure of working closely with the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association (HCIA) and the Hawai`i Science & Technology Council/Institute to offset some anti-science legislation moving through the State Legislature. Having the HSTC/HSTI as an advocate for science and technology in Hawaii is an invaluable asset when those opposed to science and technology in Hawaii make themselves known.
Comment by Kimo Watanabe on February 9, 2010 at 8:37am
Nice article. She's by no means got an easy job. The challenges are many, and it's certainly not an easy task to get people to the table to talk, set goals, and work together, and an even more difficult task to push the day to day grind type items to move on the set goals, but Keiki-pua seems well qualified for the job both in terms of her educational background and in her understanding of the unique cultural landscape in Hawai'i. Wish I was there to contribute more, but I wish her all the best. Imua!
Comment by Konstantin A Lukin on February 8, 2010 at 2:59pm
As a web developer and an active supporter of the green-tech sector, I look forward to assisting more green-tech companies getting online, efficiently providing them with killer websites!

Welcome to TechHui, Keiki-Pua!
Comment by Gus Higuera on February 8, 2010 at 12:47pm
Welcome to TechHui Keiki-Pua. I'm excited to see so many great things happening in HI technology wise.
Comment by Cameron Souza on February 8, 2010 at 11:03am
She sounds like the right person for the job. Its a challenging time for the innovation economy in Hawaii. Good luck!
Comment by Mika Leuck on February 8, 2010 at 10:02am
We know you will do great things Keiki-Pua!
Comment by Daniel Leuck on February 7, 2010 at 5:28am
Great post Alex! I had the pleasure of meeting Keiki-Pua last month. I believe she is uniquely qualified to represent the science and technology community in our state and I'm excited about the direction she is taking HSTC. We look forward to working with her to make 2010 a better year.


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