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.