Each year, the University of Hawaiʻi pumps about half a billion dollars in outside money, mostly for research, into the state economy.

“I would say we are in the top quartile of public research universities in this country and for a state with a population of only 1.5 million it is a remarkable accomplishment,” said University of Hawaiʻi President M.R.C. Greenwood. However, she and the university are far from satisfied. The school has just embarked on an effort to double that amount to a billion dollars a year. It’s called the Hawaiʻi Innovation Initiative or HI squared.

“We can show that when we are successful at bringing the research industry into Hawaiʻi we create not only knowledge and opportunities for our students and faculty, but we actually create jobs and we improve the economics of the state,” said Greenwood.

The plan is to use public and private money to hire 50 internationally known, successful researchers over the next five years. Greenwood says as the researchers generate more knowledge and information and their ideas are proven to be useful, it could create new business opportunities in Hawaiʻi.

The Hawaiʻi Innovation Initiative is modeled after a highly successful program at the University of California San Diego and is targeting researchers in three strategic areas.

“We will strengthen and work to build the areas we know we are good at but know we could be great—new agriculture, health sciences, diabetes and obesity,” said Greenwood.

“Then looking at gap areas, where we need people in areas we don’t currently have,” said Greenwood. She cited informatics or the science of processing data as an example of a gap area.

The third area is where the University of Hawaiʻi is already an international leader like ocean and earth sciences and astronomy. Greenwood strongly believes the initiative will have a lasting impact on the entire state.

“Because it’s going to create jobs, it’s going to create a future for our children and because it will hopefully place us as leaders in areas where we need research for the future, like energy, sustainability, certain health areas and a dominant position in some of the physical sciences,” said Greenwood.

UH leadership is currently meeting with community groups and organizations along with business and political leaders to explain and lobby for the initiative. For Greenwood, the bottom line is clear.

“This is an effort you can support, you should support, because it could determine the future of the state,” said Greenwood.

UH hopes to start bringing in the first of the new, world class researchers in 2013.