Every once in a while it’s refreshing to get a new perspective on the future of innovation. There was plenty of visionary thinking to be found at The Knowledge Society’s (TKS) showcase event held at the MaRS Discovery District in April.
TKS was founded by entrepreneurs Nadeem and Navid Nathoo as an innovation incubator specifically focused on nurturing the talents and skills of the world’s next generation entrepreneurs before they have finished high school. Nadeem Nathoo says this year the students have shown remarkable progress. “The longer the program runs, the more interesting things get.”
He adds that as their network grows, the TKS model, as well as its students, are drawing interest from international communities that include major industry players, angel investors, researchers and associations.
Attending a TKS showcase is far from your typical high school science fair. This year 20 students took to the stage to speak to the audience on topics ranging from quantum computing and AI to blockchain, biometrics and gene editing. “Some of these may be normal to adults, but these are 13 to 17 year olds. This is not really happening to this level in the rest of the world,” Nathoo claims.
The achievements of these students are beyond extraordinary. For example, at the age of 14 Sabarish Gnanamoorthy, became the world’s youngest developer for HoloLens to be sponsored by Microsoft. He is now creating an integrated AR wayfinding platform for internal applications, and has just been named by VeeR as one of the Top 10 Virtual Reality Influencers You Should Be Following.
Another rising star who is in her second year of the program is Ananya Chadha. She also joined at 14 and last year presented on gene editing and subsequently spent time working with supervisors on researching a cure for muscular dystrophy on mice. This year she has moved on to blockchain, building tokens on Ethereum, and also featured video clips of her work in developing brain-machine interfaces to control playlists and remote control model cars.
“Not only that, Ananya competed in a hackathon a couple of weeks ago where she put genomics data on blockchain and ended up winning in internship with ConsenSys,” Nathoo says. Already a prolific presenter on the international stage, Ananya is slated to speak at the CDO (Chief Data Officer) Summit in New York, alongside presenters from MasterCard, Dun & Bradstreet, Harvard Business Review, MIT, and Bayer, among others.
A relative newcomer is Andrew Benn. He applied to the program at the age of 12, and commutes from London every week. His claim to fame is that he has already built a home-grown model of a nuclear fusion reactor in his garage. Now, he says, he’s simply looking for a lab that has the equipment he needs to bring his vision of non-invasive power to reality.
Tommy Moffat, another veteran in the program, has shifted from an initial focus on robotics (where he was ranked within the top percentile of global competitors), to studying quantum machine learning for molecular simulation in drug discovery. He was recently part of a team of three students that entered a Rigetti hackathon where they competed alongside PhD level students in the industry. “Tommy is one of the smartest young people I have met. To work on quantum computing in machine learning is a completely different beast,” Nathoo says.
When asked how a program like TKS differs from school, Moffatt told the audience, “In school you are given the answers or the formula and you sit in class and take notes. They rarely ask why or how gravity or the sun work, or how to make a fusion reactor in my garage. Here we are driven by ourselves to do it. We’re not measured by grades or given assignments or due dates. This is real life.”
A growing number of the students are well on the path to commercializing products for market, from smart canes for the blind that incorporate GPS and voice activation, to wearable devices for non-invasive blood testing using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) technology, to pacemakers that are powered by the body’s thermal energy.
Nathoo says TKS’ approach may be unique to the tech industry, but is really no different than sports. “Leading sports organizations recruit kids in their early teens. Why aren’t we doing that earlier for promising students? There is no Dev 1 for these students. Yet talent is the name of the game in our industry.”
The need is clearly resonating with the technology and academic communities. Registration in the program has grown from 90 to 115 students from private and public schools in the GTA and beyond that visit the TKS location once a week.
The demand for these students for internships and speaking engagements on the global stage has also been growing exponentially as word about the program and their research and development spreads, Nathoo says. In addition, the brothers are continuing to build a solid network of relationships with angel investors, incubators, industry leading organizations, academia and working groups around the world.
Nathoo says that by providing talented students with access to workshops, international leaders and world class thinking in general, will lead to dramatic changes in society. He is often quoted as saying that their plan is to build the next Elon Musks of the world. “If you start early and expose them to the best content, people and environments, the potential is unlimited.”
“Everyone talks about unicorn companies,” says Navid Nathoo. “We are talking about the unicorn people that will be changing the world.”