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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Investor group expanding to Maui

By Sean Hao
Advertiser Staff Writer

Christopher Ablan works on a fuel cell tester at Hoku Scientific. Hoku is one of the Hawai'i-based startups that received funding from UH Angels, a local investment group that will open a Maui chapter this week.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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ANGELS ON WEB

For more information on UH Angels visit: http://uhangels.cba.hawaii.edu

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A Honolulu-based investor group that has helped pump nearly $10 million into local startups is branching out to the Neighbor Islands with a Maui chapter opening this week and a Kona chapter planned to open during the next year.

The group, UH Angels, connects well-heeled investors with young companies in need of cash. The group also extends the expertise of its members, including attorneys, chief executives, physicians, athletes, scientists and other professionals.

Opening chapters on the Neighbor Islands creates a bigger potential pool of investors for local companies, said Rob Robinson, who heads the network.

UH Angels meets monthly at the Oahu Country Club to review investment opportunities in local businesses.

The new chapter "is really for people who live on Maui who want to be involved in UH Angels but don't want to come here every month" Robinson said. "Over the long-run that's the plan to open a Big Island chapter."

The group's expansion onto Maui is spearheaded by local entrepreneur Virendra Nath. Nath, founder of Honolulu-based data processing company HDEP International, moved from O'ahu to Lahaina about six months ago.

Maui, which is home to many retired corporate executives, is a prime location for finding Angel investors, Nath said.

About 30 to 40 Maui residents are expected to attend the Maui chapter's first meeting tomorrow at the Village Conference Center in Kapalua.

About half of those meet the group's membership requirements of a minimum $1 million net worth or $200,000 in annual income, Nath said. Just as importantly, many of these these Angels bring business expertise needed by local startup businesses.

"It's just an enormous resource," Nath said. "We are so lucky in Hawai'i to have that resource. If we can bring that together with startup companies it should be really good."

Overall, UH Angels has invested $9.25 million in 25 companies including Hawaii Biotech, Hoku Scientific and Hoana Medical.

Hawai'i's high-technology sector is a small but rapidly growing part of the state's economy.

The sector expanded by about 10 percent between 2001 and 2004, nearly double the job growth rate for the state.

Hoku, a Kapolei-based fuel-cell technology company, is one of the higher-profile entrants to Hawai'i's high-tech industry in recent years.

The company, which went public last fall and now employs nearly 30 workers, has landed multimillion dollar contracts with the U.S. Navy and Nissan Motor Co.

Honolulu-based Hoana Medical in February received Food and Drug Administration approval to start selling new advanced hospital bed technology.

The technology uses a special pad and monitor to automatically display and record a person's heart and respiratory rate without the need for leads, electrodes or cuffs.

Reach Sean Hao at shao@honoluluadvertiser.com.