Nadeem and Navid Nathoo: Two Brothers Changing the World with Canada’s Leading Innovation Program for Youth
The Knowledge Society (TKS) is Canada's leading innovation program for youth seeking to explore the world of entrepreneurship and innovation. Started by brothers Nadeem Nathoo and Navid Nathoo, the program embraces topics such as Virtual Reality, Blockchain, Alternative Energy, and Artificial Intelligence. One participant describes it as a human accelerator that turns driven students into unicorn people who will solve the world’s most important problems.
We connected with Nadeem to talk about TKS and the journey he and his brother have taken to build an incredible community of innovative youth!
Tell us about how TKS started.
TKS started in 2016. My brother, Navid, and I were in Silicon Valley and were being exposed to some incredible experiences and technologies that most people didn’t even know about. It was an “Aha” moment – we realized that just by being in this environment, we had opportunities and insights that weren’t available to people outside of this bubble. We were thinking it would be impossible for someone to create the future if they didn’t have a hypothesis of what the future actually looked like, and we thought it was important to do something about that.
There were two things we were really passionate about: Mining human potential (we have the most sophisticated tools to mine gold, but not to mine people); and getting more smart people in the world working on big problems (there is no system to encourage people – especially young people – who want to have a big impact to make big change).
We didn't know exactly what we were going to do, but we had a spark of an idea. We moved back to our home town of Calgary to get started and develop a program in line with our passions and goals.
Fast forward two years…today TKS is a world-class experience designed for young people who want to create the future, become leaders, and influence change. We have programs in Toronto and Waterloo, and we are looking to expand into New York, Los Angeles…stay tuned!
How has the program evolved, and can you share some of its success stories?
The program started as a one-month program, then evolved to three months, and then a year. We tested out different models (a summer program, for example), and ultimately realized time is really important. Today the program is eight to ten months, and we are exploring two- to three-year programs for the future.
We have secured partnerships with several large organizations and you can see our young innovators speaking at various conferences and expos throughout the world – sometimes in front of 40,000 people! Three students will be speaking at Web Summit in Lisbon in front of 70,000 people! Keep in mind - having non-executives speak at an event like this is almost unheard of. Over 200 participants have gone through the program (the youngest being 11) and over 40 students have received internships at big banks, start-ups…organizations that are recognizing the incredible talent of these young people, and at times are even eager to hire students on the spot, following a presentation. Some companies are even modifying their HR processes to make sure they don’t miss out on opportunities to bring bright minds on board.
Most importantly, TKS is dramatically accelerating the development of young people to solve world problems in the areas of health, affordable housing, education, and more. One student worked on a project focused on prosthetic limbs. Another – at 13 years old – built a nanomaterial to decrease the cost of gene sequencing. These “unicorn people” are pretty mind blowing!
In the application process (which is blind to gender, school, grades, financial status, and any other personal information), we look for students who are curious and have a strong desire to learn. At the end of the program, students have an invaluable network and a strong, healthy, and innovative mindset. Many times, TKS helps students discover what they are truly passionate about and gives them the confidence, courage, and skills to change the world.
How do you cultivate courage? You need to be in systems of encouragement – that is what TKS is.
You compare TKS to sports. Tell us more.
If you want to compete in the Olympics, you have to have an amazing and dedicated coach, train thousands of hours, and have access to the right tools and resources. If you want to be an Olympic level thought leader/CEO/Innovator…where do you go to get that? That’s where TKS comes in – we provide the facilities, the coaches, content, and framework. And our students put in the time and thinking. Instead of crossing our fingers, holding our breath, and hoping great thought leaders will simply appear, we’re proactively setting the stage.
Imagine a world with more leaders like Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates. These are the type of people TKS is creating.
For those of us who have never been part of an incubator program, tell us what it's like.
TKS very much a way of life. It’s meant to be a student’s number one priority outside of school – some students actually prioritize it above school.
Programming is once a week on weekends, with your cohort. Students participate in topic sessions on exponential technologies, skills sessions, hackathons, and they work with various partner companies on specific challenges. Airbnb flew some of our students to San Francisco to meet with the executive team to talk about a displacement problem they are trying to tackle. These kids are still in school, but that doesn't mean they can't feel what it's like to work at a company.
Throughout the week, students set goals for themselves, attend events, conferences, and have access to world-class mentors from Uber, Facebook, leaders in the biotech space, finance, and so much more.
If students need access to a lab, or need to connect with specific resources or funds, we help break down barriers so they can move forward with their ideas.
Please share some of your most memorable moments during your journey over the last two years.
What stands out the most is the one-on-one conversations I’ve had with students. I see them happier, I’ve watched them mend relationships, and they tell me they feel they now have a purpose. I see a change in their confidence levels – and I see pure human growth.
We are doing something that has earned the trust of these students – and their parents. They are taking a leap of faith with us by embarking on something completely unique.
I also love seeing others get so jazzed about what the students are doing and accomplishing. The partners who have come on board are willing to put their time and resources towards TKS.
How do you see TKS’s and #movethedial's messages and missions working together?
What we are trying to do at TKS is to accelerate the development of young people so they can solve the big problems of the world. Everything we have today that has progressed society is because 0.001% of the population at a given time were working on big problems. Imagine if it was 0.002%. Historically, we've been excluding women from this equation. Literally, if you just include the other half of the population – we could change the world!
Getting girls involved in TKS is ingrained in our DNA – 40% of our students are female. We certainly recognize that the “systems of discouragement" are a lot stronger for ladies – we are countering that with encouragement for females and participants overall.
Like #movethedial, what’s happening with TKS – starting right here in Toronto – is truly special. It’s not happening anywhere else in the world! And judging by the excitement of our students, partners, and mentors, we are clearly meeting a need.
Guest writer: Jori Lichtman