Student posing for a photo at UH Campus Center
UH Mānoa student Nathan Bek markets products from his family business called Green Dream. (Photo credit: Nathan Bek)

University of Hawaiʻi Vice President for Research and Innovation Vassilis Syrmos and two UH Mānoa students were honored by the Hawaii Venture Capital Association at its 20th awards gala on February 27.

Syrmos was named Investor of the Year for the amount of outside funding collected to help support UH’s Innovation Initiative. In fiscal year 2019, funding totaled $428.8 million, which included investments made by government entities, private companies and nonprofit organizations. Syrmos said that investing in research and startup companies creates revenue opportunities that benefit UH and Hawaiʻi.

Vassilis Syrmos headshot
Vassilis Syrmos
Kareem Elassy headshot
Kareem Elassy

“This award validates our continuing efforts to refine and expand our research innovation, commercialization and entrepreneurial efforts throughout our 10-campus UH System, while at the same time—working with our industry partners toward the broader goal of helping to establish Hawaiʻi as a new hub for innovation, entrepreneurship and venture capital activity,” Syrmos said.

Nathan Bek was named a finalist for student entrepreneur of the year, which honors a younger member of the innovative business community with a passion for learning and the tenacious spirit of an entrepreneur. Bek is a UH Mānoa sophomore majoring in marketing and journalism in the College of Social Sciences’ School of Communications. Bek is the CEO of Green Dream, a family business in Waiʻanae, that crafts handmade organic soap, laundry detergent and surf wax from natural ingredients sourced primarily from local farms and his family’s backyard.

“It’s a great honor,” Bek said. “I think a big part of being a student entrepreneur is in leadership and inspiration. Because entrepreneurship is a new subject and hard to teach, there really needs to be people to set a path and lead with example.”

He is president of the Hawaiʻi Student Entrepreneurs, a campus organization that supports student-run businesses, and an intern at Hawaii Business magazine.

Kareem Elassy, another finalist for student entrepreneur of the year, is an electrical engineering PhD student and co-founder of Hawaiʻi Innovation Lab (HIL), a startup specializing in healthcare and solar energy technology.

The team is currently working on projects including human and animal embryo assessment techniques. Elassy said technology can improve the pregnancy rate of in vitro fertilization treatment by predicting the health of embryo. HIL is also creating low-cost optical coating for solar panels.