Festival of Ideas: Igniting Innovation


Punahou’s inaugural Festival of Ideas, which took place virtually in early June as part of Alumni Week, featured esteemed speakers engaged in thoughtful discussions over three days. Catalyzed by a theme of innovation, the sessions covered such topics as Hawai‘i’s potential to build a startup community to the future of education.

A series of innovation workshops also showcased standout student projects.

Here’s an overview of what unfolded.

Opening Keynote and Conversation: Building Bold Futures

Steve Case ’76

Punahou Trustee Emeritus and tech pioneer Steve Case ’76, who co-founded AOL, delivered the Festival’s keynote address, sharing his vision for building bold futures through innovation. He was joined in conversation with Punahou Trustee Mark Fukunaga ’74.

In his address, Case talked about opportunities for innovation that have arisen from the pandemic, and what the new normal could look like. He discussed the rise of remote work, which could benefit Hawai‘i and other communities outside traditional startup centers such as California, New York and Massachusetts. “My guess is in 10, 20 years, instead of just thinking about a few startup hubs in this country, we’ll be thinking about a few dozen startup hubs. That creates a big opportunity, including for Hawai‘i,” he said.

Case said the key is to “trigger a boomerang of people” who feel now is the time to return to places like Hawai‘i. “What happens on the talent front is going to be very important, and watching what happens on the investment front is also going to be important. How do we disperse capital more broadly so it’s not just to a few states, but to many states? How can Hawai‘i be able to attract national, even global investment capital, as its companies are scaling?”

Hawai‘i and other communities need to create a collaborative culture around innovation and entrepreneurship, he added And underlying this is the willingness to take risks. “As you think about the innovation economy and the entrepreneurial sector, you really need to believe in ideas and be supportive of people with those ideas, even if they might seem crazy, because every hot idea ends up starting as a crazy idea.”

Future Now: Alumni on Revolutionary Change

Liz Yee ’94

Liz Yee ’94, Chief of Staff of The Rockefeller Foundation; Zak Stone ’00, a member of the Google Brain Team; and author Chris Burniske ’08, discussed such topics as how artificial intelligence, cryptoassets and the pandemic are changing the world.

After each of the speakers explained their work, they answered questions from moderator Allen Murabayashi ’90. One question dealt with the social and moral responsibilities to make revolutionary technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), cryptocurrencies, as well as vaccines, available to all.

Zak Stone ’00

“Ultra-large-scale products from technology companies like Google are available to everyone,” Stone said. “Billions use Search or Maps or YouTube, and those experiences are enabled by AI technology in many cases. With both AI and crypto, the communities are incredibly open.”

In response to a question about how small investors can get into crypto investing, Burniske advised to do so carefully. “Not more than one to 5% of your net worth, depending on where you are in your life arc,” he said. “If you’re going to dedicate a lot of time and resources, you can increment up from that percentage, but keep it small so that if you lose 1%, you’re fine.”

Chris Burniske ’08

Yee was asked whether she sees a different approach in responding to the next pandemic, based on what was learned during the current one. “We’re thinking about how we bridge the relationship between the government and the private sector and use our capital as catalytic capital to incentivize action,” she said. “Data is also a secret weapon, and it really enabled us to take action.”

Explore New Dimensions: A Hands-on Workshop in Augmented Reality

As part of this hands-on workshop, Punahou students and faculty shared Augmented Reality (AR) experiences they created and used kits to make their own voyaging canoes. By assembling the laser-cut wood pieces in their kits and activating “triggers,” which AR camera will recognize and respond to, participants saw their canoes come to life.

To show how augmented reality can be utilized in education, Taryn Loveman, director of Punahou’s Design Technology and Engineering, gave an example of how students in a language class could some day walk through pathways of a distant city together, learning both about the culture and language. Meanwhile, student presenter Bao Jones ’24, who recently created his own AR app, explained how augmented reality would make complicated subjects easier to grasp by providing an interactive, visual aid

Fearless Innovation in Education

Jean Case

Philanthropist, tech pioneer and author Jean Case took part in an enriching conversation with Academy Principal Emily McCarren and retired Junior School Principal Paris Priore-Kim ’76 about how education was transformed during the pandemic and how it can continue to evolve.

During the session, Case recalled how urgency conquered fear during the pandemic, allowing for things to be done differently in education and beyond. “Failure is a powerful teacher,” she said. “You can learn from it if you’re smart enough to apply and perfect your idea going forward and not be stopped by it.”
Case said she’s impressed with how Punahou embraces change, and how it encourages students to develop an entrepreneurial spirit. Among their many contributions to Punahou, Jean and her husband, Steve Case ’76, provided funding to launch the Case Accelerator for Student Entrepreneurship, which serves as an incubator for student entrepreneurs and their projects.

“There’s a close relationship between education and exploration,” she said. “For many of our explorers out across the world, they don’t necessarily have a hypothesis they’re chasing, it’s pure inquiry. And I’ve loved what I’ve seen at Punahou in recent years; it’s really opening up that kind of environment to the kids.”

Pitch to the Pros: A ‘Shark Tank’ Style Contest for Student Ventures

Student finalists pitched their venture ideas in a “Shark Tank” style contest with judges Jean Case, Steve Case ’76, Amara Humphry ’05, Meli James ’96 and Dustin Shindo.

“Having the privilege of pitching to industry professionals with years of expertise facilitated a lot of personal introspection, and it also provided me with a unique glance at real-world entrepreneurship,” said Sascha Pakravan ’22, who received $1,700 for his literacy nonprofit, Words4.

Rediscovering & Sustaining Hawai‘i’s Soul

Duane Kurisu

As part of a “talk-story” session, Punahou Trustee Duane Kurisu and Hawai‘i Tourism Authority CEO John De Fries ’69 discussed what makes Hawai‘i’s soul so enduring and why it must be preserved.

Kurisu said he believes a commitment must be made to keep Hawai‘i’s inherent nature intact. “We need to share this with the rest of the world and show them our behavior and our natural way of being kind, so that we can be an example for everybody else,” he said.

John De Fries ’69

DeFries says during his former days as a tour director, he noticed how visitors would be transformed during their time in the Islands. “I was cognizant that there was an essence about Hawai‘i that was transforming them,” he said. “I watched this over and over. So given what the nation and the world today face with the fragmentation of our nation, race, politics and economic divide, there needs to be an example that emerges.”

Reinventing a Healthier Planet

Celeste Connors ’94, Executive Director, Hawaii Green Growth, John Leong ’96, Founder, Kupu and Pono Pacific Land Management, and Lia Shipman ’91 Colabello, Managing Principal, Planet+Purpose Solutions, discussed paths to a more sustainable future. After individual presentations about their respective work, Punahou English teacher Tom Gammarino led a Q&A, in which Colabello expressed hope that Hawai‘i’s youth would be changemakers on a global scale. “For the children of Hawai‘i, their lived experience will be climate change, and they will rise to the occasion and will go out and fix this world,” she said. “I believe this with the fierceness of my heart.”

Invent Your Own Reef-Safe Sunscreen

In this workshop led by Lani & Kai co-founders Robyn Fukumoto ’05 and Sam Juarascka, as well as Ao Ola founder Moani Hibbard, attendees created their own sustainable mineral sunscreen. Participants went through the stages of the R&D product cycle then worked on a pitch.

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