â€śWe need to create jobs â€” we need to diversify the economy and grow innovation,â€ť a legislator told me in the depths of the COVID-19 lockdown this spring.
While I have consistently heard this desire from legislators and community members, I have also heard the sneaking suspicion that the â€śinnovation economyâ€ť in Hawaii is nothing but a decades-old pipe dream. As someone who has spent the last decade working in innovation from Honolulu, and funding 99 startups from around the globe to address climate change, 2020 has revealed to me exactly what an innovation economy means in Hawaii.
Through the pain and grief of COVID-19, and the staggering unemployment it has ushered in, we have seen entrepreneurs across our islands rise up with creativity, resourcefulness and passion. Today a friend told me, â€śwhen I work with entrepreneurs, I am basically living in the future.â€ť
And I agree that my best days are those where I get a vivid glimpse into the future. On these days, I can clearly see a world with enhanced and shared prosperity, an abundance of opportunities, and more equitable, safer islands.
The last few months have given me glimpses that have brought me to tears, made me laugh until my cheeks hurt, and given me hope for the planet my baby girl will soon inherit. I want to share seven of these with you here:
1. Richard is home for the summer. After graduating from Punahou and spending 20 years away learning about renewables and founding a startup, Richard (along with his wife and 6-month-old baby) has moved home for the summer to work from Hawaii. Keeping West Coast hours, he can run his growing clean energy company from Honolulu and get grandparent help taking care of his baby daughter.
In the future â€¦ online meetings are the new norm and where you live is decoupled from where you work, allowing thousands of kamaâ€™aina in tech â€” and other industries â€” to work from Hawaii. Our most talented individuals no longer have to choose between a career and living in Hawaii. Think beyond â€śwork from homeâ€ťâ€¦ itâ€™s now â€śwork from Hawaiiâ€ť!
2. Jimi, Laarni, Mariah, Raine and Rob are selling more tomatoes and other local foods than ever before, as residential demand for Farm Link Hawaiiâ€™s online marketplace has rocketed 3,000%, spurring their need to hire multiple new positions. Their farm-to-family online platform and system means fresher food â€” and more money in farmersâ€™ pockets. What would a robust local agriculture system mean for farmers and for our future?
In the future â€¦ a vibrant local food system means a more resilient Hawaii in the face of any economic, health, and natural shocks that may come our way.
3.Â Joan is making plans to hire 100 people within the next five years on the Big Island for her company Blue Ocean Barns (an Elemental portfolio company). Blue Ocean Barns believes Hawaii has the potential to be a world-class R&D hub for aquaculture. They will be growing, processing, and distributing Asparagopsis taxiformis, an endemic seaweed that cuts methane emissions in beef production by 80%.
I can clearly see a world with enhanced and shared prosperity, an abundance of opportunities, and more equitable, safer islands.
In the future â€¦ entrepreneurs see Hawaii as the perfect home base to grow the most impactful companies, and good jobs that do good for the world are readily available on every island.
4. Aki is driving an electric vehicle for the first time. She got an affordable 2018 Nissan Leaf and she can see all of her charging information on her phone from the electric vehicle charger, JuiceBox. And these arenâ€™t the only electrification moves weâ€™re tracking â€” electric buses, bikes, planes are all part of the Elemental portfolio. This means more local jobs, less money heading offshore for oil, and quieter, cleaner streets â€” ahead of schedule. We donâ€™t want to be horse-car-men, do you?!
In the future â€¦ every person has access to transportation that is safe, reliable, clean and cost effective. This is a mobility system in which everyone has access and roadways to new and exciting opportunities.
5. Sultan, our Transportation Policy Intern, graduated from the University of Hawaii, earned a masterâ€™s degree from Columbia University, and is back in Hawaii making an impact on Hawaiiâ€™s transportation systems. Sonia, our Communications Intern, moved back home to Hawaii after graduating from USC and is helping to design Elementalâ€™s media strategies. We had over 350 applicants to the Elemental Excelerator internship program this year, and our youth are hungry for careers that empower them to be creators of the future they want to see and build the place they want to live.
In the future â€¦ we have enough opportunities for a wave of committed, passionate, and talented youth who will take on the care and stewardship of our islands.
6. Hawaii is doubling down on solar. The 29 grid-scale renewable energy projects planned or under construction on four islands represent more than $3.5 billion of investment, according to Hawaiian Electric. These are dollars that will be spent at home, rather than being sent abroad for imported oil. And the solar projects will produce energy at a far lower cost than oil-fired power plants.
In the future â€¦ additional infrastructure projects keep high-growth jobs in demand, providing an ongoing â€śstimulusâ€ť that pays two to 10 times the stateâ€™s median wage. As we design apprenticeship programs, our local workforce has access to the best jobs in the renewable energy industry.
7. Thousands of people are lifting their voices and ideas for building back better through Aina Aloha Economic Futures, Uplift Hawaii, Waypoints, and other forums. These groups have offered principles to help guide the decisions we make as individuals, businesses, and public servants.
In the future â€¦ in the words of Uplift Hawaii, we engage â€śmore people in all decision making processes, prioritizing the voices and viewpoints of those traditionally marginalized by our political and economic system. Feedback loops and accountability create trust, foster transparency, and drive informed and effective decision making.â€ť
There are thousands more stories where these come from.
And in the future â€¦ we no longer define â€śinnovation economyâ€ť as we did 30 years ago. It has evolved beyond traditional research and development, defense-oriented technology and capital-heavy science. While some of those companies will succeed here, what weâ€™re seeing working more and more â€” and creating significant jobs and exports along the way â€” is quite different.
The innovation economy I see is software-forward, remote-enabled, mission-focused, climate-resilient, customer-first, and local+global. And itâ€™s already here.
Sorry. That’s an invalid e-mail.
Thanks! We’ll send you a confirmation e-mail shortly.