UH incubator supports SOEST entrepreneurs to take ideas to market

Two SOEST-affiliated technology startups have been selected for a UH innovation incubator, Hawai’i Technology Innovation Development Ecosystem (HITIDE). This novel 24-month entrepreneurial program offers up to $50,000 in seed funding, customized education, mentorship and resources tailored to the unique needs of academic entrepreneurs to help them translate and advance UH-developed, impact-driven technologies to solve real-world problems. 

“We are extremely pleased to support this diverse group of startups that offer an exciting range and depth of innovative technologies developed through UH research,” said Vassilis L. Syrmos, UH vice president for research and innovation. “These technologies have the potential to significantly improve health care and training, space exploration and engineering design, and are prime examples of why it is so important that we support our researchers and create more entrepreneurial opportunities for them through novel programs like HITIDE.”

HITIDE Cohort 2

Interstel Technologies offers a fully responsive mission operations system for robust, coordinated operation of satellites, UAVs and other vehicles in dynamic environments. Its iCOSMOS software was developed by the UH Mānoa Hawaii Space Flight Laboratory (HSFL) Specialist and Project Manager Trevor Sorensen and his team: HSFL Lead Software Engineer Eric Pilger; HSFL Deputy Director and Systems Engineer Miguel Nunes; and Junior Software Engineer Lynzee Hoegger.
Mahina Aerospace includes a team from HSFL: Avionics Engineer and Program Manager Amber Imai-Hong; Assistant Researcher Frankie Zhu; Software Engineer Luke Clements; and Systems Integrator Chris Amendola. Their technology is a low-cost spaceflight-ready, educational, small 1U cube satellite. Paired with a collection of STEM curricula, the Artemis CubeSat has the potential to significantly advance aerospace education and provides a low-cost option for industries to send integrated payloads to space.

“The majority of our cohort members and program candidates have full-time jobs and limited entrepreneurial experience, and they approach things from an academic versus business lens,” said George Yarbrough, HITIDE program lead and associate director, entrepreneurship programs for the UH Office of Innovation and Commercialization. “We are looking at the Hawai‘i innovation pipeline and identifying how to strengthen the ecosystem by supporting academic entrepreneurs with developing their technologies into products and businesses that benefit our community and beyond. We hope that most of these early stage startups will go on and be accepted into other growth accelerators such as Elemental Excelerator.”
Cohort members are currently participating in the regional National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps, a virtual entrepreneurship program that provides immersive and experiential training in how to test the market through customer discovery and create a business strategy to maximize innovation impact.

Inaugural Cohort

HITIDE’s inaugural cohort started in spring 2022 and features three startups, all with ties to SOEST, focused on renewable energy.

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.