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March 6, 2023: The Future Tech Leaders of Tomorrow
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Profile: Navid Nathoo and TKS
What is TKS?
We are a human accelerator that trains young people to make a dent in the universe. It’s a 10-month innovation program with weekly sessions for students ages 13-17 years old, recognized by the World Economic Forum as a leader in global innovation in 2020.
Applications are open - www.tks.world
What was the insight/inspiration that led you to launch it?
In 2014, I sold my company to Box, a billion-dollar publicly traded company in San Francisco. At the same time, my brother was at McKinsey, working with Fortune 50 companies in Japan, the US, Australia, and Europe. He was thinking about making the switch out of McKinsey so he flew over and visited me in Mountain View. In one of our philosophic conversations, we got frustrated at how fast the world was changing, but young people have ZERO exposure to it in schools. I was directly working in the middle of it, leading the AI team at Box, and working directly with Google, IBM, Apple, and Microsoft; not to mention I had friends building companies in quantum computing, blockchain, biotech, and nanotechnology. Why weren’t young people being taught about these exponential technologies that are completely changing the world? Shouldn’t we be preparing them for their future?
At the same time, there are so many global problems - diseases, malnutrition, slums, access to quality healthcare and education, and the list goes on. We thought that if we dedicated our lives to solving global problems, we might be able to solve one, like cancer. MAYBE if we cured cancer we could work on eliminating world hunger. So in a lifetime, we could potentially solve 2 global problems. So my brother asks me, “What if we solved 50? Why would that have been?”
My answer: we would have built an army of people to solve big problems.
The next day I gave my 2 weeks' notice to Box and started building TKS. We had a hypothesis - if we could train driven young people with the mindsets, skills, and knowledge to make an asymmetric impact, we could make the world a significantly better place.
It’s been 7 years and we have over 2,500 students from 30+ countries around the world in virtual and in-person programs. Every year the students impress the sh*t out of me. They have built projects like transparent photovoltaic cells, machine learning to detect tumors, and using CRISPR to treat diseases like cystic fibrosis. Our oldest alumni is only 23 years old, and they are doing amazing things like building companies (they’ve raised over $80,000,000, with two companies valued over $100M), working on deep technical research in gene editing and brain-computer interfaces at leading labs like Stanford and MIT, and working [as the young employees] at companies like SpaceX, OpenAI, Neuralink, Microsoft, Google, IBM, and various YC-backed startups.
Seems like we’re doing something right.
How has it been received by the market? Why do you think it has been so well received?
For most parents and students, the goal is university. It’s a foreign concept to seek real education that actually helps an individual grow. Putting kids into Kumon and Spirit of Math will help increase math scores, but it won’t develop mindsets, character, and real-world skills.
Most parents don’t seem to be looking for programs to expose their kids to emerging technologies and mindsets. They assume a good university will prepare their child for the future - this is wrong.
University is not enough, and good marks in schools are not enough. As a result, we find ourselves educating parents and teachers on why they should build mindsets and real-world skills, and learn about emerging tech… which is crazy to me because it feels so obvious.
As we get more results and alumni stories, it’s easier to show why TKS is so valuable. But there’s always a struggle because of the traditional mindset of ‘school grades and university are everything’.
How did you know you were ready to found a company?
I really didn’t think about it. I just let my passion (and frustration) drive me.
How did you meet your founders/know they were the right people to start a company with?
I started TKS with my brother, Nadeem. It was clear we both had a burning desire to make a real impact in education. We were equally frustrated by the current education system. We were aligned on the mission.
What has been the hardest thing on your journey so far?
Spreading awareness of TKS. Students are in school most of the day, and when they’re not in school, they’re playing sports or on TikTok. We try to work with schools to do info sessions to their students, but many schools aren’t friendly. They want their students to just focus on getting good grades. Some schools actually discourage their students from doing programs like TKS because it will take time away from studying. If I had a magic wand, I’d want every driven and curious young person in the world to know about TKS.
Then they can decide if they want to join, but many don’t even know it exists.
What has been the most pleasant surprise?
The results. Young people have far more potential than we think. Also the deep long-lasting friendships they’ve built during TKS - that’s super fulfilling to see.
What is your super strength?
Understanding what young people need to tap into for their potential and to discover their mission. This includes building systems and activities to engage and challenge them while developing them holistically as a person.
Who is the unsung hero on the team? Why?
Our head of marketing, Roberta Lindal.
She puts in a ton of passion and effort to spread the word about TKS to students around the world. We’ve grown to over 2,500 students and alumni from all over the world, and I’d credit that growth to her.
What are you trying to achieve over the next 12 months?
Applications are open for our next program! We have in-person programs in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, New York, Seattle, and Austin. We also have a virtual program for students outside of those cities. We want to successfully launch those programs with driven and curious students, who will hopefully make a positive impact in the world.
Ps. Applications are open. If you know students ages 13-17 years old, they can learn more here: www.tks.world
What advice do you wish you had been given prior to launching?
Hire a great marketing team early. We didn’t have a real marketing team until 2022, and while we were ultra-focused on building a great program/product, we didn’t focus on building the marketing function out well. Having someone to focus on that while we built the program would have been helpful.
What is your proudest accomplishment outside of your startup?
All my proudest accomplishments are seeing alumni work on impactful projects. Sounds cheesy, but it is what it is. I guess that’s the flywheel that keeps me driven to expand TKS.
Who are the two Canadian startups/companies you like in your market?
Prodigy - building engaging education software through gaming. Gamification is the future of education and should be part of every classroom. Replace lectures with games and hands-on activities.
SHAD - an immersive summer program for high school students to live on the university campus and learn about science and tech, while building friendships. I personally did SHAD when I was younger and I loved it.
*You can learn more about TKS and apply for their program here:
Headlines and Content
#ICYMI - Catch up on past newsletters if you hadn't yet subscribed!
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The housing theory of everything >> INTERESTING READ
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The best takeaways for future founders - everything you need to know to launch, scale, build, raise and more >> LISTEN HERE
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Events and Links
Check out the interesting content, events, and happenings for the community here:
TechTO #IWD2023 Event: March 6, 2023 - Come celebrate women in tech with us TONIGHT! >> REGISTER HERE
TechTO Special: Web3: March 22, 2023 - Learn all about one of the hottest topics in tech from the top innovators in the business >> REGISTER HERE
Best of TechTO Returns! April 3, 2023 >> REGISTER HERE - Limited early bird tickets available!
International Conference on Engineering and Technology: April 11-12, 2023 >> LEARN MORE HERE
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