“For any entrepreneur, starting a company is a crash course in life.”
So says 22-year-old Ankur Jain, founder and chairman of the Kairos Society, an entrepreneurial community making the ride a little smoother for young business people.
Founded in 2008, Kairos claims to bring together the brightest and most promising young entrepreneurs from around the world. Through extensive interviews, prospective Kairos fellows must demonstrate the necessary business acumen to be invited to join. Once in, fellows have the opportunity to attend events organized by local chapters, as well as two annual meetings – the European summit held at The Hague, and the global summit at the New York Stock Exchange. Here, members get to spend a weekend with an all-star-cast of business mentors, roped in by Kairos’ well-connected executive board. More importantly, members gain access to the most supportive network of all – a 1,200-strong group of peers in 22 countries who want to make money and change the world for the better.
It sounds like a tall order, but these fellows are taller. Successful Kairos companies include the Levant Power Corporation, a shock absorber developer co-founded by Forbes 30 under 30 members Zack Anderson and Shakeel Avadhany. At the inaugural 2009 Kairos summit, Avadhany got the chance to introduce their GenShock technology, which generates energy with every bump, to Admiral William Owens, former Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As Jain tells it, Owens took the young company by the hand and connected them to some of the most powerful people in the military and automobile industry. Now the technology is currently being tested for use in the latest generation of Mercedes-Benz S-Class vehicles.
Like Levant Power, the majority of companies founded by Kairos fellows are socially conscious, relying on innovative technology and sustainable resources. The Kairos 50, presented for the first time at this year’s summit, aims to showcase the best companies coming out of the world’s colleges.
Of these 50 companies, some – such as Solé Bicycles – are already thoroughly established, appearing in last year’s All-Star Student Entrepreneur issue of Forbes. Others, like DUMA – an organisation that provides an SMS-based job alert service to connect employers and job-seekers in Kenya – is set to launch in September. Among the notable startups are SmartDeco, which makes foldable furniture from recyclable and sustainable resources, and ThinkLite, which aims to provide energy efficient lighting while taking a cut of the savings.
Not all Kairos fellows are out to make big bucks. The society also provides an invaluable network for nonprofits. Just ask Ted Gonder, the cofounder of Moneythink, an organization run by undergraduates that educates high school students on financial literacy. With the help of Kairos fellows, Gonder’s Chicago-based initiative has since spread to 17 colleges in nine states, mentoring over 1,700 urban high school students in 10-week courses. Gonder himself has been honored by the White House as one of five campus “Champions of Change.” In the future, Moneythink hopes to take its program to other countries.
“We don’t yet know if we’re making a serious dent in the issue, but we know we’re working on an issue that’s more important than ever,” said Gonder.
As the first year of Kairos alumni head into the post-college world, many fellows are looking to scale their companies across international borders.
22-year-old Shehmir Shaikh is the President of Kairos Middle East, the society’s newest chapter. A Pakistani native, born and raised in Dubai, Shaikh joined Kairos in February 2011 while studying Economics at New York University. He set up Kairos Middle East in September.
“It’s been extraordinarily challenging,” explained Shaikh. “There is so much potential in the region and there’s a massive entrepreneurial wave, but it’s very scattered.”
Shaikh has no doubt Kairos fellows will lead that wave. “All of us come from such diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds that we have unique perspectives on entrepreneurship, the problems in the world and how to address them,” said Shaikh.
“If we’re brought together we can bounce those ideas off each other and have a compounded effect on how to go about solving those problems.”
Critics of Kairos might dismiss the society as a new old boy network, a frat of affluent youths giving each other a leg up in social entrepreneurship. (Kairos does mean ‘the right time’ in Ancient Greek.)
“Kairos has been the best learning experience ever,” said Jain. “Some of my closest friends around the world have come through the program.”
Shaikh continued: “It’s not just about networking and throwing parties. It’s about developing companies around a common goal.”
The common goal in question is to find solutions to some of the world’s most pressing issues in spheres such as healthcare, education and new energy. So far, things look promising.
“I’m probably one of the more optimistic people out there and that’s because the exposure to these kinds of people allows us to keep that excitement,” explained Jain. “I have faith in our future.”
For now, Jain has handed Kairos’ reins over to Alex Fiance, the society’s new global President. Jain is currently working on Panjia, a company focused on leveraging new technologies to tackle global markets.
To learn more about initiatives by Kairos fellows, check out 5 of the most exciting Kairos companies.
Article written by Ricardo Geromel, Forbes Contributor.
Please note, this article has been reposted. You can find the original Forbes article here.