Isle startup displays
By Dan Martin
Dustin Shindo started his fuel-cell company, Hoku Scientific, five years ago in the proverbial garage. But 2005 will be the year he finally takes her out for a spin.
Hoku, which makes the membranes at the core of environmentally friendly hydrogen fuel cells, has turned heads with its commercial promise and success in attracting investment and a top-drawer scientific team.
This year, the company will begin making and shipping its product in earnest to partners in Japan and, it hopes, fulfilling its potential as one of the most promising Hawaii technology startups in years.
The market potential could be huge. Rising energy costs and concern over the environment are placing an increased focus on cleaner alternative energies.
In Japan alone, which imports most of its energy needs, a number of large manufacturers are gearing up to introduce fuel cells that could supply power for homes, cars and other uses.
"Dustin's brought that company so far in such a short time," said Leigh-Ann Miyasato, executive director of HiBeam, a nonprofit that aids and invests in younger enterprises, including Hoku.
"They've put themselves in a really good position now to take advantage of all the interest in fuel cells."
A graduate of Hilo's Waiakea High School, Shindo's previous business ventures included Hilo-based Mehana Brewing Co. and ActivityMax, an Internet-based applications provider for the visitor activities industry. But far more than the others, Hoku is an example of Hawaii's potential for homegrown ingenuity.
Shindo co-founded Hoku Scientific with Waiakea classmate Kaleo Taft, and their product is more than a "me too" entrant in the potential fuel cell sweepstakes. They have hit upon an effective technology that can be produced more cheaply and offers substantially better performance than existing fuel cell membranes.
The company struck a deal with Sanyo Corp. of Japan to develop residential fuel cells and announced a similar pact late last year with a "global" Japanese automaker that is considering integrating Hoku's membranes in car fuel cells.
A new facility will be built in Kapolei beginning this year to handle the company's move into production.