HiPlan finalists part 3: water, water everywhere

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Editor’s note: This is part 3 in a 4-part series this week introducing the final 8 Hawaii contestants vying for a $25K prize on Saturday.


Editor’s note: This is part 3 in a 4-part series this week introducing the final 8 Hawaii contestants vying for a $25K prize on Saturday.

Two of the finalists focus on water. They are Renewable Ocean Energy and The Water Machine.

So, how did they come up with the idea of starting their companies?

“I used to walk along the shore in Waikiki and think there had to be a way to use all the energy of the ocean to help us out with our energy needs,” said Dr. Richard Navarro, CEO at Renewable Ocean Energy. “So, I worked for several years and got several patents in the area of wave energy, until it became apparent to me that was not the way to go. More than 50 companies have tried using wave energy to produce electricity and it’s just not practical. A Department of Energy request for proposals on developing electricity from low dams made me realize that a technology designed for that purpose could also be used on the ocean, so my team and I switched over to that and developed our Poseidon Hydroelectric System. This system continually siphons ocean water and uses a modified ram and connected turbines to get the power out of it to generate electricity on the surface of the ocean.”

Turning from the water around us in the ocean to the water vapor held in our humid air, David Trujillo, one of the owners of The Water Machine, is dedicated to helping produce clean drinking water.

“I started this business after moving to the Big Island and realizing how precious our environment is and how many water bottles are used and discarded by tourists and locals alike. Not only is it a challenge to get fresh, clean water in Hawaii, where an estimated 1/3 of the homes are on catchment, but it is an issue around the world where millions of people do not have access to clean water. Water availability is expected to decrease in many regions of the world as groundwater sources dry up and there is the additional concern of contaminated water.”

In response to that need, David’s team developed the Atmospheric Water Generator, a hybrid device combining the technology of currently existing methods, to extract water vapor from the air around us, without high energy demands, and turn it into a reliable source of pure, clean, drinkable water.

Thinking local, what is the impact of the problems they’ve identified and addressed with their products?

“Hilo is 53 percent more expensive than Dallas generally, according to one review of the Best Places to Live,” Navarro said. “And utilities are 74 percent more expensive in Hilo. With low-cost energy being produced from a virtually unlimited source, think how your life would be improved if your electric bill was cut in half.”

Trujillo said cutting down waste is a problem his company addresses.

“It just takes one visit to Costco to see lots of customers walking around pushing a cart with cases of bottled water,” he said. “The Water Machine not only solves the problem of bringing water to houses on catchment systems, it impacts the environment in other ways too, by eliminating the unnecessary waste of plastic water bottles we put into our landfills.”

Winning the HIPlan competitions would affect their businesses, both said.

“The biggest challenge for our project is money,” Navarro said. “All the investment to date has come out of my pocket. After 10 years of research, Renewable Ocean Energy has two patents issued and three pending, one of them international, and has invested over $250,000. We’ve had a team working without payment, all dedicated to improving the world by reducing carbon emissions. I am very impressed with every one of these folks. We have funding applications pending with private investment companies and are planning for Small Business Innovation Research grant application, but the extra money from HIPlan will give us an opportunity to do things it just is not possible to do right now.”

“For the past four years, we’ve been 100 percent self-funded from our own savings,” Trujillo said. “Winning the prize money accelerates our progress, ability, and timeline in producing the aesthetic prototype that can be shown to investors and in a crowdfunding campaign. In doing that we hope to create at least five jobs right here on the Big Island.”

Both shared thoughts on going through the HIPLan experience and what they’ve learned in participating.

“The biggest difference from other competitions I’ve been in before is the quality of the people,” Navarro said. “There is a tremendously high quality and I am very impressed by the group competing. There is a lot of diversity and innovation and as competitors, we have to ask ourselves, ‘How can we do something as good as that?’”

“We have some really good competition and it has been a fabulous time,” Trujillo said. “Preparing a presentation allows you to see things from a different perspective. I learned that the fear of public speaking and falling flat on your face with nothing to say can only be overcome by speaking from the heart, with passion, and then everything flows like the water produced from The Water Machine.”


Experience the final phase of the HIPlan competition and find out Saturday who wins, 9 a.m.-noon at NELHA.

Dennis Boyd is the director of the West Hawaii Small Business Development Center.

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