Ms. Lew also highlighted the role that federal partnership programs like the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program can play. Small companies often struggle for funds to develop new ideas, given that venture capital firms prefer to invest in products that already have revenues and companies with some experience in the marketplace. By providing the “first money” on the basis of a competitive selection process, she said, SBIR can help small innovative firms in Hawaii secure access to early-stage capital. In his conference remarks, Charles Wessner cited a recent study by the National Research Council that described the many contributions of SBIR, noting that over a third of the participants are new to the program each year. Overall, the report concluded that the SBIR program was “sound in concept and effective in operation.”10
Recognizing that Hawaii is poised to move quickly to grow its innovation economy, academic, government, and business leaders participating in the conference expressed a willingness to collaborate in overcoming the challenges facing this state, to draw on the advice of national experts, and to listen to the concerns of its indigenous community and other citizens.
In drawing the conference to a close, Dr. Greenwood added a note of caution about Hawaii’s ability to accelerate quickly with a new strategy of technological innovation and commercialization. “This is not the first time for much of what we are proposing,” she said. The state developed a similar plan 15 years ago when a governor’s task force reported that University of Hawaii should be the economic engine for the state and should begin to commercialize some of its research, but that plan was not implemented. “The challenge is to do what we know we have to do,” she said, emphasizing the need to act based on the recommendations of the 2011 Hawaii Innovation Council Report. Responding to these remarks, Chuck Gee, a member of the University of Hawaii’s Board of Regents noted that the conference had strengthened his confidence in the university’s role as a driver for knowledge-based growth. He thanked the conference organizers for “bringing a new sense of excitement as to where we can go from here.”
10National Research Council, An Assessment of the Small Business Innovation Research Program, Charles W. Wessner, ed., Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2008.