An entrepreneur for entrepreneurs

PUHI – He holds a doctorate degree in statistics, has launched several high-tech companies, taught at the University of Denver and University of Colorado, worked in an artificial intelligence lab and started a software business.

So, what’s Dr. Haviland Wright doing as the new director of the Hawai’i Small Business Development Center Network Kaua’i office (SBDC) on the campus of Kauai Community College here?

Being an entrepreneur helping other entrepreneurs, for starters.

A frequent visitor to Kaua’i, Wright learned through a story in this newspaper during what may have been his last arrival here as a visitor earlier this year that a vacancy was about to occur in the director’s office of SBDC Kaua’i.

His wife Margaret encouraged him to apply, saying it would be a great job for him, and he’d learn so much. As usual, she was right.

“It is a wonderful way to understand what’s going on, and make a contribution,” Haviland Wright said as he recently sat down for a first interview in his new position.

What started out as a planned long New Year’s weekend visit to Kaua’i, a place they had spent several summer vacations, turned into nearly three weeks in paradise, and the offer of the job he couldn’t refuse.

The timing was perfect, he said. The couple was in the midst of deciding their “next thing,” and after several vacation visits to the island found themselves feeling “semi-residential” even before moving, possibly permanently, to Kilauea earlier this year.

The job offer afforded him a “wonderful” way to come to the island, do something he likes to do, and help out local small business people at the same time, he said.

The opportunity to learn much about Kaua’i was part of the motivation when he accepted the position, he continued.

The SBDC, a statewide network of island centers offering consulting, training, research, advocacy and, sometimes, money, to small businesses, is a partnership program between the University of Hawaii at Hilo and the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Wright brings a unique perspective to the position, as a practicing entrepreneur who didn’t let something like a full-time job keep him from launching yet another business. Geezers, a company making surf shorts cut above the knee, is his latest venture and adventure, born out of something akin to total disgust for the latest trend of surf shorts extending nearly to the ankle.

Innovating is what he does best, he says, with engaging in business activities his mechanism for self-expression, since he can’t sing, dance or paint.

Although he hasn’t been a resident long, Wright, 53, has a lot of ideas for creating and growing businesses, the future of high-tech, the great idea to have the SBDC Kaua’i center located on a college campus, and other issues.

Starting a business is typically challenging for people, and the office was custom-created to help people start and grow businesses, he said. So far, most of his clients are small farmers, restaurateurs, and owners of small stores.

It’s important for new Kaua’i businesses, he feels, to be consistent with the character of the island. The office, director and Clara Oligo, administrative assistant, are all here to help, Wright said.

First, he encourages any would-be entrepreneurs who haven’t already done so to write business plans. Naturally, SBDC can help with that. Further, written financial projections (income, costs, etc.) are extremely valuable indicators of whether or not a business will succeed.

Since some clients come in not only for formative help but cash assistance, the center helps the small business owner prepare for the presentation to a lender. In some cases, lenders refer clients to SBDC.

“What you hope happens with high-tech is that it gets reflected in the educational system, and provides jobs and educational opportunities” for the island, Wright said on another topic. “Hawai’i is a very wired place,” and geographically well-situated, in terms of travel times and time zones, to do business both with Asia and North America.

As business depends on colleges providing them with trained workers, it makes perfect sense to have the SBDC Kaua’i office at KCC, he reasons. And, since the average adult is going to have three or four different careers in his or her life, the college plays a “renewal role” as people change careers and need different types of education, training and skills, Haviland noted.

The Philadelphia native holds a master’s degree in business administration from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and received his doctorate from that university as well. In the artificial intelligence lab he worked in, he helped develop a system that automatically wrote lines of auto, health and other types of insurance policies.

In Boulder, Colo., he started a software company, Avalanche, ran it for eight years, then sold it. On part of his entrepreneurial journey, he commuted from Boulder to Boston for almost two years.

His road trips continue in July, when he brings the SBDC message to public venues from Waimea to Hanalei (please see the related story).

Another of his companies developed liquid crystals for electrical uses. Displaytech, where he worked nearly nine years, made, among other products, viewfinders for camcorders and digital cameras.

He and his wife had two sons, Sergei, nine, and Vladimir, 12, adopted from Kazakhstan in the former Soviet Union.

Business Editor Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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