UH incubator supports SOEST entrepreneurs to take ideas to market

Hawaii Business Magazine published a feature article highlighting the UH Office of Innovation and Commercialization’s Hawai‘i Technology Innovation Development Ecosystem (HITIDE) incubator program. They launched it this year to give faculty, staff and students insights into how to commercialize and spread their innovation and research. Below are excerpts from the article, published November 7.

The Hawai’i Space Flight Laboratory wants to make satellites cheaper than the typical 20-year old used car.

Low-cost cubesat kits usually cost around $50,000 to $500,000, but Amber Imai-Hong, a HSFL avionics engineer and program director for the project, says the team wants to sell its version for less than $5,000.

The package would include a basic power system, onboard computer, communication system to connect with the ground, an infrared camera plus an online course and textbook. The goal is to make aerospace education more accessible and affordable for students.Imai-Hong says the project received a $500,000 grant to develop the kit and curriculum from NASA’s Artemis Student Challenge. And this fall, Artemis CubeSat joined HITIDE, the new incubator run by UH’s Office of Innovation and Commercialization.

The team hopes to learn about the business side of running a tech company. “We’ve never started our own business before and we’re very interested to see if this is something that could be a viable product and be very marketable,” she says.

Here’s the confirmed list of fall 2022 cohort members [from SOEST]:
Artemis CubeSat Kit
Team from Hawai‘i Space Flight Laboratory at UH Mānoa: Dr. Frankie Zhu, Amber Imai-Hong, Luke Clements

Interstel Technologies
Team from Hawai‘i Space Flight Laboratory at UH Mānoa: Trevor Sorensen
Interstel Technologies’ mission is to develop operations capabilities for the future of aerospace exploration. Its software iCOSMOS is a fully responsive mission operations system for the robust, coordinated operation of mobile agent swarms, such as satellites, UAVs, and other vehicles in dynamic environments.

Commercializing Research

Programs run by most accelerators and incubators last a few months to a year, says George Yarbrough, OIC’s director of innovation and entrepreneurship programs.

But HITIDE focuses on long-term growth versus short-term investment, and its cohorts provide customized education, guidance and support over a period of 12 to 24 months.

“We think that every researcher or academic entrepreneur coming in our program is going to have different needs, so you can’t just blanket them with a curriculum,” says Yarbrough.

The longer program benefits academic entrepreneurs who have fulltime jobs or are full-time students – as opposed to the full-time entrepreneurs who take advantage of traditional incubators and accelerators.

HITIDE’s inaugural cohort started in the spring and features three startups in renewable energy. Yarbrough says the curriculum part of the program is completed and OIC is pairing members with aligned mentors and further supporting the three companies, which are:

— Hawai‘i Innovation Lab: Developing advanced reflective coating to lower manufacturing costs of solar power mirrors.

— Nimbus AI: Using artificial intelligence systems to improve weather forecasting.

— Edge Energy: Designing adaptable smart devices that monitor and optimize electric grid performance.

Hawai’i Innovation Lab

HIL’s mission is to engineer “disruptive solutions to tackle high-tech challenges,” says Arif Rahman, the co-founder and CEO of the company, who was formerly a post-doctoral fellow at [the Hawai’i Natural Energy Institute at] UH.

One of those solutions is creating an advanced reflective coating to reduce manufacturing costs. The reflective coating would replace traditional mirror film used in solar thermal technologies such as concentrated solar power, known as CSP.

Rahman says CSP produces electricity more efficiently than photovoltaic because it can make and store thermal energy, which enables power generation during cloud cover and after the sun sets.

But CSP requires large capital investment and costs more than PV. Rahman says that if HIL can successfully commercialize its product, it could reduce the capital cost of CSP mirror film by 50% to 60%. Learn more at tinyurl.com/hawaiiinnovationlab.

Nimbus AI

Nimbus AI is creating artificial intelligence technology that predicts short-term cloud movements and forecasts longer term solar trends using historical data, real-time satellite data and machine learning.

Improved forecasting helps utility operators estimate how much solar power will be produced based on factors such as cloud cover and other weather-related events, according to Giuseppe Torri, Nimbus AI’s science lead and assistant professor of atmospheric science at UH Mānoa.

“(It can) help reduce the unpredictability of solar energy production,” which could lower energy costs in Hawai‘i, says Peter Sadowski, the company’s AI lead and an assistant professor of computer science. Learn more at tinyurl.com/nimbusai.

Edge Energy

Edge Energy is creating smart devices to monitor and improve electric grid performance. Founder Kevin Davies, an assistant researcher at the Hawai‘i Natural Energy Institute, a research unit of UH’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, says transitioning to rooftop PV and home electric vehicle charging stresses the grid.

“Utilities are challenged with accepting a large demand for residential PV and EVs while avoiding expensive infrastructure upgrades that ultimately increase electricity costs,” Davies says.

That’s why he says he is developing technology that provides real-time data, analytics and controls to optimize the use of renewable energy in smart appliances, electric vehicles, home battery systems and more. Learn more at tinyurl.com/edge-energy.

Read more at Hawaii Business Magazine.