Gov. Neil Abercrombie today signed into law HB2319, which appropriates $2 million to establish a venture accelerator funding program.

Many of Hawaii’s startup ecosystem supporters were on-hand to celebrate the signing, and Abercrombie had much to say about the potential of this funding, calling it an “engine for job creation” and a catalyst to help “nurture talent, attract talent, and keep the talent here.”

The governor was very articulate as he talked at considerable length about the impact this accelerator initiative can have on Hawaii, and even covered the expected timeline for how the funded accelerators will be chosen (RFI soon, workshop in August, choices in the fall), and when they will potentially launch (early 2013).

Inevitably, the naysayers will quickly ask “What did we get for our $2 million?” But, it’s important to remember that, while “success” is usually measured in dollars, there’s a lot more at stake for Hawaii: reversing the brain drain, broadening the talent pool and drivers of the economy, bringing in outside investment, creating sustainable jobs, and much, much more.

As everyone seems to advise, we need to take a 20-year view and commit to supporting local startups. The first few accelerator or incubator cohorts might not produce any “successful” businesses, and that would be OK, as long as our ecosystem is learning, growing, and advancing. While the accelerated startups should be aiming high and shooting for the billions, we, the ecosystem, need to understand that a billion-dollar (or even million-dollar) “exit” is akin to winning the lottery. If Hawaii gets one, awesome. But, if we see a few acquisitions, a bunch of new jobs, a stream of new talent, a national awareness of what we’re doing, and maybe a few new economic and community leaders, that would still be an amazing success.

For more information, Karl Fooks, president of the Hawaii Strategic Development Corporation and a key driver behind the bill, will be presenting more details of the accelerator funding process tonight at 6:00 pm as the keynote for Hawaii’s High Technology Development Corporation‘s monthly “Wetware Wednesday” event. More information on the event can be found here.

Others in attendance Wednesday included Richard Lim, Director of the Department of Business, Economic Development, & Tourism, Yuka Nagashima, Executive Director and CEO of HTDC, Len Higashi, Senior Economic Development Manager of HTDC, Burt Lum of HPR’s Bytemarks Cafe, Rechung Fujihira and Anthony Stanford, founders of The Box Jelly, Omar Sultan, CEO of Protekai and co-founder of Sultan Ventures, and many other local startup entrepreneurs, supporters, and enthusiasts.

Congratulations to everyone who supported and pushed for this legislation, but now it’s the entire state’s responsibility to rally behind our startups and give them the support that they need.

Here’s to the beginning of a great new chapter in Hawaii’s economic growth!

Photo courtesy of Omar Sultan.


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About the author: Jason Rushin has over 15 years of experience in technology marketing, consulting, and engineering. In addition to launching Startup Hawaii, a Startup America region, Jason is the founder of HulaCopter, a mobile marketing platform for the travel and tourism industry. He previously helped drive marketing at several Silicon Valley software startups, and holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering from University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown and an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University.

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About the Author

  • Jason Rushin
    Jason Rushin has nearly 20 years of experience in software marketing, consulting, and engineering, and currently works as a marketing consultant for high tech clients, both locally and in Silicon Valley. Prior to relocating to Hawaii in 2010, he led marketing at several Silicon Valley software startups. Once in Hawaii, he launched and subsequently sold his own startup, and has been an active supporter of Hawaii’s small-but-growing startup ecosystem. Jason holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering from University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown and an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University.