Entrepreneur of the Week

Nadeem and Navid Nathoo, Co-Founders of The Knowledge Society on Training Young Innovators

knowledge society nadeem nathoo

In this weekly series, we profile entrepreneurs approaching the top of their game, and ask them how they got there. Speaking to Bay Street Bull about what it takes to train the next generation of innovators and problem solvers is Nadeem Nathoo.

Founded in 2016 by brothers, Nadeem and Navid Nathoo, The Knowledge Society is the first innovator program for young people between the ages of 13 and 17 years old.

“My brother and I both went to Ivey, but most of our education came from outside of the classroom,” Nathoo admits.

With a variety of impressive international experiences under his belt including building mobility aids for the physically disabled in rural Honduras, interning at Grameen Bank with Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammed Yunus in Bangladesh, teaching a business course at a university in Mombasa, starting a university incubator, growing early childhood development centres in Tajikistan, and being part of Next 36’s first cohort. More recently, Nadeem spent a few years at consulting firm McKinsey and Company.

Navid on the other hand, equally as impressive, started an enterprise security company called Airpost which was acquired by Box in 2015 and where he continued to lead their AI team down in Silicon Valley.

After the aquisition, the brothers found themselves in San Francisco seeing the future being created in front of their eyes. They were waking up to self-driving cars everyday and their peers were building billion dollar companies. However, they both felt there were many Ubers-type companies and not enough companies addressing deeper global issues.

They asked themselves if they had 10 billion dollars in the bank, how would they spend their time. After some contemplation, they had their answer: it was to solve one of three problems: food production, affordable housing, or access to diagnostics/drugs.

“But say we dedicated the rest of our lives to one of these problems and completely crush it, what about these 100s of other problems that are impacting billions?” Nathoo adds.

Born out of this larger issue was The Knowledge Society (TKS). The Nathoo brothers wanted to completely rethink the way young people learn and develop to specifically solve important problems in the world.

Their flagship location is in Toronto, operating out of McKinsey’s Experience studio and another location in Waterloo operating out of Deloitte’s Dspace.

On why they started TKS in Toronto, Nathoo says, “Two years ago we were in this middle ground of having an appetite for innovation, but young people [were] pretty removed from the ecosystem. It seemed like a great place to test whether this is something people wanted. And… a lot of people want it.”

The Knowledge Society philosophy

Traditional educational institutions are far different than TKS. “It’s almost like saying how is gym class different from Olympic-level swimming,” Nathoo says.

Olympic athletes start young.

TKS has the same philosophy. “If you wanted to be an Olympic swimmer, you don’t turn 22 and think ‘Hmmm, I think I want to compete for the Olympics next year,’ Nathoo says. “No! You start young, and you train, and I don’t care if you have one leg; if you invest 10,000 hours into swimming you’ll be an amazing swimmer.”

TKS focuses on the knowledge, skills, mindsets, and networks necessary for young people to impact billions far earlier on.

Nathoo admits it’s a competitive program, first there’s an application then an interview process.

When it comes to the selection criteria to be accepted into the program, Nathoo says, “Curiosity, ambition, work ethic. We don’t care about grades, age, school, any of that stuff. We want people who have the foundation to do something big and difficult”

The brothers built a program packed with the resources and training they wished they had when they were younger.

“We asked ourselves ‘why us?’ We’re just two brown kids from Calgary. But more importantly, why not us? We also realized we need more smart people in the world working on hard problems, we have too many [problems],” Nathoo says.

How The Knowledge Society operates

According to Nathoo, the training is “pretty packed and intensive three hour sessions where we go deep into emerging technologies, talk about why it’s important and what you can do with it, and work on a problem in teams.”

The sessions are taught by people who have a lot of real world experience. Typically these teachers are top tech company employees, former startup founders, and top performers at companies like McKinsey.

Some of the topics the students can expect to explore: AI, Blockchain, Nanotech, Genomics, Quantum Computing, Stem Cells, Robotics, Space Tech, and many more.

The program is extracurricular and the students are expected to spend 10-15 hours outside of the sessions working on projects, meeting leaders in the community, and building relationships with each other.

On the TKS website, student spotlights showcase some of the incredible life-changing projects their students have been involved in. To list a few:

  • A portable device that can non-invasively detect blood glucose and cholesterol levels without penetrating the skin which provides real-time monitoring on heart disease and diabetes
  • Using nanotech and gene editing technology to provide a platform to virtually cure any disease
  • Brain-computer interfaces that control prosthetic limbs with your mind
  • Indoor navigation platform using augmented reality and computer vision (no beacons!)
  • Machine learning applied to sensors to improve agriculture yields
  • Blockchain solution for peer to peer wifi, with the goal of providing internet to everyone when they need it.

TKS students have also worked with companies like Airbnb, Microsoft, Walmart, Wealthsimple, and Interac on some of their top business priorities. This includes helping Airbnb develop ways to provide short term housing solution for those who are displaced, working with Microsoft to grow their AI school, and working with Wealthsimple to get all Canadians who are the right fit for RESPs access and to invest far earlier on.

The future of TKS

The Nathoo brothers want to continue to change the way people learn and develop globally.

TKS plans to expand to New York, Boston, Ottawa, and Las Vegas this year. According to Nathoo, the goal is for TKS to be in every major city in North America in four years and most major cities globally in six years.

Along with the expansion, TKS will also offer a digital platform to give students a “TKS lite” experience wherever they are in the world.

Additionally, a fund will be built, so that investors will have the opportunity to invest in TKS alumni if alumni want to raise money to start companies.

Nathoo says, “We’re creating the optimal people development environments, and by doing so, creating an exciting and positive future we all want to live in.”