When it comes to solving the world's greatest societal ills, many millennials are committed to making a difference. A few have leap-frogged the status quo to garner millions from VCs to launch ventures to do just that. The catalyst: a global foundation known as the Kairos Society —a peer-to-peer community of some 1,000 student entrepreneurs.
Over the last four years the success of these young mavericks' top companies has been dazzling: They have raised more than $600 million in capital from such venture funds as Andreessen Horowitz, NEA and Greylock; and their start-ups collectively have a $2.5 billion combined valuation. Among the companies Kairos fellows have launched are Casper, Periscope, Digital Genius and FiscalNote.
The secret sauce has been connecting top-flight investors and influencers with these upstarts who often germinate their breakthrough ideas in their dorm rooms.
The model works, according to Neil Parkh, co-founder and COO of Casper, who has been a fellow of the Kairos Society for years. As Parkh explains, "the foundation was life changing. From the age of 19, it gave me access to leaders and F500 companies willing to listen to my big ideas and give me their insights." Casper, which reinvented the sleep business with a direct-to-consumer ergonomic mattress-in-a-box, has so far raised $55 million in venture capital and is now valued at $550 million. Last year it partnered with West Elm to be their exclusive mattress provider in their 80 retail stores.
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"The idea is to get young thinkers with fresh ideas to rethink broken industries and find solutions for world problems that affect millions of people," says Ankur Jain, founder and chairman of the Kairos Society during the foundation's fifth annual Kairos Society Global Summit in New York City on Friday. It is being held at the World Trade Center, where 100 government and business leaders — including George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic; Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon; and Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico — are gathering with Kairos members to brainstorm on how to approach global problems.
Capitalizing on that success, the foundation recently launched a seed fund, Kairos Society Ventures, to be managed by the general partners: Ankur Jain; Alex Fiance and Ryan Bloomer. While the foundation is not disclosing the size of the fund, Ankur Jain told TechCrunch it was in the eight figures. Jain says it will be investing in "moonshot ventures coming out of the extended Kairos community." The average deal size: $250,000, says Bloomer.
Investors in the fund include successful entrepreneurs and families from three
continents, with industries ranging from hospitality, health care, finance, enterprise
software and transportation.
The fund has already begun to invest in companies pushing industries forward, such as
Abaris, which is helping people prepare for retirement with a private-sector alternative
to Social Security known as a digital personal pension; Me Salva, one of the fastest-growing education institutions in Brazil, bringing mobile-based courses to all students; Mi Aguila, which is building the transportation network for the Colombian workforce; and Radish Fiction, which is
disrupting the traditional publishing model with a mobile-first serialized fiction platform.
According to Matt Carey, founder of Abaris, "Kairos has accelerated his venture's growth prospects and helped it gain attention from its early days, when he incubated the idea as an MBA student at Wharton, working at the U.S. Treasury Department. "I noticed the big trend: Roughly 45 percent of working-age households have no retirement savings, and consumers needed other options."
In the midst of creating a new financial asset class, Carey is confident in his company's future. Abaris piloted its product last year and already has hundreds of users. On his company's advisory board are data scientists from Amazon and a lead designer from Google. Life insurers partnering with the company include NY Life, Mass Mutual and Principal Financial.
"When you consider about $1 trillion is invested in IRAs and 401(k) plans annually, we think we spotted an enormous opportunity," Carey says.