Building a startup is hard. That’s the reality in the midst of the noise, hype, and glamour depicted of entrepreneurship these days. In no particular order, you need to
- Attract and work with A-game players who share your vision, values, mission, goals, and chemistry but who have complementary skills and know-how to form your core team
- Make certain to climb the right ladder on the right wall—that is, identify and target the right growing market
- Add substantial value to your customers/clients through your innovative product and/or service
- Differentiate yourself from your competition, all the while remembering whom you and your team serve
- Keep innovating
As a founder, you don’t have just one job. You have around a baker’s dozen: Leader, storyteller, recruiter, product developer, marketer, salesperson, partnership builder, fundraiser, manager, cheerleader, change maker, risk taker, custodian, IKEA furniture assembler. The list goes on. You need to be adaptable and flexible, communicate humbly but firmly, learn quickly, implement sound business processes, and execute-execute-execute pragmatically with purpose and focus. If not, success will be just a pipe dream or fleeting experience. Remember: great ideas don’t just knock on your door; you must pursue them.
If being an entrepreneur is hard, being a young entrepreneur is even harder. With significantly less experience than seasoned elder counterparts, young founders must be prepared to do all of the above. And they’d need to do so often sitting across the table from skeptical business veterans—potential customers, partners, employees, and (angel and venture capital) investors. Young founders working on ambitious problems face tremendous odds. But, the successful ones will add significant value to or even help build our future world.
I’ve recently caught up with a range of my favorite young entrepreneurs and their companies, many of whom I first met at the latest Kairos Global Summit. I am displaying twelve such promising ventures in alphabetical order as follows:
1. is like Microsoft Office for teachers. It’s a suite of productivity apps for K-12 educators. Used in over 20,000 schools worldwide, Chalk.com solves the problems of lesson planning, assessment, and collaboration and eases teachers’ pain by facilitating personalized education and driving student success.
, co-founder and CEO of Chalk.com, observes, “I had always thought that teaching is an easy job. I thought teachers taught from a textbook and got 3 months off in a year. It wasn’t until I visited my own high school teachers that I realized it’s not the case. They were struggling with an overwhelming amount of work—dealing with lesson planning, assessment, and attendance, in addition to fending off angry parents and bureaucratic administration. I told them I couldn’t help them with the latter two but I could help ease their daily tasks. That’s when I started Chalk.com.”
Clef hand scan (Photo credit: Steven Janak from ZenWorks Productions)
2. co-founder and CEO Brennen Bryne claims, “Clef is killing the password. Clef is a safer, easier way to log into sites online without passwords—we recognize your phone instead of anything you need to remember or type.” Clef already powers logins for more than 40,000 sites across the web and is growing quite quickly among bitcoin, gaming, and developer tool sites.
“The only security that matters is the security you use. Today, most people’s bank accounts are protected by their dog’s name or their spouse’s birthday. We’re trying to make good security accessible to everyone by replacing the complicated requirements and making safe logins easier than unsafe ones.”
3. is a toy robot and an application designed to get preteens coding. Teaching programming outside of the traditional classroom has become an industry as more and more organizations, both for-profit and non-profit, have popped up with offers to do so.
Adam Lipecz, co-founder and CEO of Codie, explains, “Technology is all around us and it is important for kids to not only read but also write digitally. Children need to understand how it works. Educational toys exist on the market, but they lack the depth to really help kids understand coding. We want to create a better tool that teaches real coding patterns. Codie is like Lego for architects.”
Josh Deffibaugh, Albert Eloyan, AJ Cihla, and Emilien Huet, Colatris (Photo credit: Egita Polanska)
4. takes mobile apps global. When an app takes the international stage, it must adapt to new target languages and cultures. This process, known as localization, is very costly in terms of paid services, internal resource burn, and time to market. Colatris gives teams the ability to offer multilingual experiences within literal minutes so that they can target the growing global mobile market—on day one.
, CEO and founder of Colatris, declares, “Our mission is to give great apps a global impact, regardless of team size or resources. Colatris is breaking down language barriers for mobile apps. Awesome technology should work effectively with any foreign languages.”
5. Dosed. People with diabetes are continually estimating nutritional information and frequently miscalculating proper insulin dosages. Dosed takes both estimating and human math out of the equation, making information more accurate and eliminating the risk of human calculation error. It is a mobile solution intended to revolutionize how Type-1 Diabetics manage and track their insulin dosage.
Daniel Fine, founder and CEO of Dosed, reflects,“My younger brother and Dosed co-founder, Jake, was diagnosed with diabetes when he was 7 years old (he’s now 18). When I was 11, we co-founded Team Brotherly Love with the motto ‘Saving Lives and Finding a Cure’ for those with Type-1. To date, we’ve raised over $1.9 million. Along the way, we have witnessed first-hand challenges in how Jake and others control diabetes. Dosed was born out of these realizations and ideas about how to better manage and track the disease for millions.” Daniel also founded and runs another interesting venture, Glass-U.
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, top-ranked tennis player Venus Williams, and embr’s David Cohen-Tanugi, Sam Shames, and Matt Smith at the Intel Make It Wearable Finals (Photo credit: embr labs)
6. believes that thermal is personal and they are on a mission to return temperature control to whom it matters most: the individual. embr’s first product, Wristify, is a personal thermostat, helping individuals stay comfortable by providing access to heating and cooling on demand. The product also helps reduce wasted energy in buildings.
, co-founder at embr, remarks, “Passionate about sustainability and reduction of energy required in buildings, we’ve discovered how temperature not only can improve people’s comfort but also can affect them emotionally, helping them relax and refresh. We are inspired by the stories we hear everyday from people suffering because they can’t control the temperature and believe that our product will transform their lives.”
7. ‘s software transforms any digital display (TVs, jumbotrons, billboards) from a static, one-way communication channel into an interactive and real-time display. Enplug’s App Market lets businesses show the largest variety of marketing and engagement content for their displays including live social media feeds, trivia, news, and many other third-party developed apps. Just plug Enplug’s mini device in via HDMI, and your display becomes your canvas.
, CEO of Enplug, notes, “Our mission is to become the de facto platform for public computing, a new paradigm we’re defining, bringing the revolutionary developments of the web into the physical world. Unprecedented mobile internet connectivity is all happening on small screens in the hands (or glasses) of users, reducing real-life interactions between individuals. Enplug and public computing will re-establish, enhance, and generate connections between individuals in the real world.”
8. Fever Smart is a non-invasive, real-time temperature monitoring system that allows people to measure temperature continuously and remotely. Its preventative solution enables users to catch potentially dangerous health issues through early detection.
Fever Smart developed from an idea into a company “after one of the company’s co-founders underwent chemotherapy treatment and identified a need for continuous temperature monitoring,” says Becca Goldstein, co-founder and COO of Fever Smart. Entrepreneur magazine has named CEO Aaron Goldstein (Becca’s brother) College Entrepreneur of 2014.
9. believes that people everywhere, even in cities and in colder seasons, can grow some of their own healthy food right where they live. The current global food system is unsustainable because it erodes our soil, contaminates water runoff, contributes significantly to climate change, and discourages healthy eating habits. Empowering people to grow their own food is great for the planet and great for people.
, co-founder and CEO of Grove, remembers, “During our senior year at MIT, Jamie built an indoor aquaponic garden and we harvested fresh salad greens, culinary herbs, and other fruits and vegetables throughout the winter. We realized that if we could design these systems to be beautiful in people’s homes while adding technology to make growing their own food easier and more engaging, we could make the world healthier and more sustainable while building a very valuable business.”
Tal Azouri and Sarah Tulin, Oxie, at the 2014 Kairos Global Summit (Photo credit: the author)
10. is the first, smart, wearable air purifier. Sleek enough to fit under your shirt collar, Oxie purifies your air without masking your smile. Oxie couples advanced aerodynamic technology with fashionable, efficient design to protect users from pollutants including traffic smoke, pollen, and germs.
, founder and CEO of Oxie, discloses, “Oxie was born when I was hit by a cloud of bus smoke on my way to work. Air pollution is the greatest environmental threat to global health. Asthma sufferers are particularly affected. Many sufferers are bound to recurring costs and side effects of medication, when for many, the solution can be preventative. Dust masks are obtrusive and uncomfortable. Consumers deserve protection that is convenient, attractive and attainable.”
VirtualU team ribbon cutting (Photo credit: VirtualU)
11. integrates 3D human modeling technology with fitness and healthcare space so that people can accurately track how their body changes as they work out. VirtualU’s VFit Scanner is the first sub-$10K scanner with millimeter precision. It allows people to get their height, weight, BMI, body mass, body fat percentage, lean muscle mass, and the circumference of virtually every body part—all with a 20-second scan!
Caroline Pugh, co-founder and COO of VirtualU, clarifies: “It’s big data meeting quantified self meeting 3D. Imagine being able to see a 3D model of yourself on your phone and see exactly where you are gaining muscle and losing fat. People will no longer have to go through extensive health assessments that take upwards of 60 to 90 minutes to get the same information. Eventually, users will utilize our technology to make smart decisions like finding the right fit of clothes online.”
12. leads the industry in custom insoles, orthotics, and foot-wearable technology. The company achieves personalization by using the client’s smartphone as a 3D scanner, a sensor-based modeller of biomechanics, and a distributor of 3D manufacturing. This serves those looking for an athletic boost, shoe comfort, or improved body alignment.
Louis-Victor (“LV”) Jadavji, co-founder, says, “Wiivv helps build stronger, happier, healthier humans from the ground up by enhancing the form, function, and feedback of feet with biodynamic, custom, 3D printed wearables. And someday, Wiivv will add 10 years to our customers’ lives simply by keeping them active and ambulatory for longer.”
A success factor to a founder’s growth is surrounding himself/herself with the right people. “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with,” said the late, renowned Jim Rohn. This holds true for young entrepreneurs, too. One company that stands out in both bringing these young founders together in a community and helping them on their path to market is the Kairos Society.
One of the early employees at Kairos, Miles Bird, reminisces, “When I was invited to attend the Kairos Global Summit during my senior year at Claremont McKenna, it seemed like a great way to meet like-minded peers. Twelve hours into the Summit, I knew that the opportunity at hand was more than just the most impressive peer group I had ever been lucky enough to be a part. I decided on the spot to do whatever it took to join the Kairos team and I spent the rest of the event volunteering. I joined Kairos full-time after graduation (and tossed a safer, full-time consulting offer—sorry, Mom and Dad!).”
As a Kairos mentor, I have observed that Kairos has literally been superbrokering ventures that are started and run by some of the cream-of-the-crop entrepreneurs, mostly in their early-to-mid twenties. I’ve been delighted to see Kairos 50 ventures and Fellows seriously attempt to solve real-world problems, enhance people’s lives, ease people and organizations’ pains, and add value to their target markets.
These young entrepreneurs are happy to recognize Kairos for playing a role in their growth. They make up part of a powerful and growing network of alumni who will support one another and future Kairos fellows for years to come. Here are some of my favorite testimonials:
- Clef: “Kairos has connected us with mentors and given us a platform to talk about Clef. Last year Kairos brought me to speak at the SALT Conference in Las Vegas alongside General David Petraeus and actor Kevin Spacey. As a speaker, I got a ton of interest from folks in the crowd, including the person who went on to lead our seed round.”
- Codie: “The connections and mentoring by Kairos has been really helpful, and the creative community behind the society has inspired us to do better and helped us realize that Codie can really be a success story.”
- Colatris: “We’ve received investment, exposure, and gained customer traction as a direct result of Kairos Society. I’m proud and honored to be part of the Kairos family.”
- Dosed: “Kairos has equipped us with incredible opportunities, access, and exposure. It has brought together extraordinary people from all over the world, some of whom have become my best friends, keeping one another on point and continually motivated to change the world.”
- Enplug: “Kairos has put Enplug on stage to present at top conferences in front of CEOs of the largest companies in the world. These opportunities have resulted in new customers and investors.”
- Fever Smart: “The idea for Fever Smart originated at a mobile healthcare breakout session led by Johnson and Johnson at the 2013 Kairos Global Summit. Soon after, J&J featured the team on their website!”
- Oxie: “Kairos fellows have been tremendously supportive, extending their expertise and ties to promote our shared passion for innovation and the betterment of humanity.”
- VirtualU: “Through Kairos, we’ve been able to meet Fortune 500 CEOs and present at international conferences like the Ambrosetti Forum and Milken Institute Global Summit. These opportunities have allowed us to share our technology and spread our story to those whose decisions greatly impact the world.”
- Wiivv: “LV was first introduced to 3D printing through an Autodesk presentation at the 2013 Kairos Global Summit. That’s where the ideas for our applications of 3D printing all started.”
Alex Fiance, the first full-time team member and CEO of Kairos, comments, “While it’s easier than ever to start a business today, the barriers are still high for young founders who aim to solve significant problems in spaces like healthcare and education. Our goal at the Kairos Society is to be a platform for these founders to gain exposure, acquire customers, and bring on the right investors and advisors.” Kairos reports that in the last 18 months, its portfolio companies have raised over 80 million USDs in funding; six have been acquired and 22 joined top accelerators.
Current and former Kairos Fellows also comprise a few of the contributing young leaders to my newly soft-launched book Young Leaders 3.0. Their stories of success, struggle, lessons learned, and reflective advice, combined with my analysis and nuggets of wisdom, may enchant or enlighten you. These contributors are
Thoughtful comments or suggestions? Please feel free to fire away below!
Make certain to climb the right ladder on the right wall—that is, identify and target the right growing […]