The similarities of the ‘Kairos Society’ to the exclusive underground tech entrepreneur members’ club in Cape Town is hard to ignore.
Having recently spent time studying at Harvard Business School, I am now even more intrigued by these elite business clubs than I ever was before. What and who is the Kairos society, exactly?
Mashable gives it as:
The Kairos Society’s global summit attracts an eclectic mix of the wealthy, famous and powerful. Dr. Mehmet Oz, former CIA director Mike Hayden, Bobbi Brown, former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, Amazon CTO Werner Vogels, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who played the title character in Snowden), Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides, Periscope founder Kayvan Beykpour, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, Rent the Runway CEO Jennifer Hyman and former Mexican President Vicente Fox to name just a few.
An impressive cast of characters.
Just recently they met at the Rockefeller family’s ‘playhouse’ in Manhattan, where they enjoyed a formal dinner and played bowls. Whilst the summit is a bit of peacocking for the society, it seems their real members number in the thousands.
Of the current group of fellows, about 150 also attended the two-day Global Summit, which also invites alumni and select others from Kairos’ vast networks. Following the opening dinner at the Rockefeller Estate, the event kicked off with an all-day meeting at the top of the World Trade Center where young Kairos fellows mingled with Silicon Valley investors, government leaders and the impressive collection of CEOs and other high-ranking executives.
There wasn’t a strict agenda for the day but the business leaders and government types in the room took turns giving quick 3-minute talks — what Jain has described as a kind of “reverse Shark Tank” — pitching the budding entrepreneurs on problems they should tackle.
Choppers and shark tanks. Nice.
How did this thing start? A bit of background:
Founded in 2008 by three Wharton undergrads, it began as a small group of ambitious friends who chose the startup life over careers in consulting or finance.
“It started off fairly simply: My friends and I were looking for other people like us who wanted to go start companies,” recalls Ankur Jain, the 27-year-old chairman of Kairos. “We saw, and we still believe, that these big problems, these social issues, it’s not just a social problem it really is a market opportunity.”
As the group grew, Jain says it became clear they would need the help of outside leaders — government officials and executives from the industries Kairos entrepreneurs were trying to break into — to succeed. So they began writing letters. Those letters led to the first event between Kairos members and business leaders in 2009.
Fast-forward to today and the group counts more than a thousand members in local chapters around the world, and more than 3,000 alumni.
To join, new members must be recommended by someone they know and will have to make it through a ‘rigorous’ application process.
Mmm… I like that.
Oh, one more thing – you must be under the age of 26.
One wonders what happens when you turn 27. Are you bounced from the club? No. Your status changes from ‘fellow’ to ‘alumni’. Alumni include the likes of Periscope CEO, Kayvon Beykpour.
A local man by the name of Pieter Strydom also appears in the mix.
“It’s a highly selective program, really just identifying the best of the best from around the world,” says Jain, who’s also the vice president of product at Tinder. “These entrepreneurs that we bring together are amongst the 50,000 or so people in our generation who are going to shape the world as we know it.”
It sounds like a lofty goal but the leaders of Kairos really believe they are finding that small group of world-changers.
“Can we say with some degree of confidence that this person might be part of that 50,000? We really want very, very innovative, people,” explains Pieter Strydom, the regional president of Kairos Africa.
But once you’re in the club, the benefits of Kairos membership are manifold.
Kairos fellows not only get access to advisors and mentors — they get an extended network of similarly minded friends. Kairos also recently started a venture fund to invest in startups that align the organization’s vision to take on “today’s big challenges.”
Yes, I was wondering when the words ‘venture fund’ would come up.
All in all, they’re an impressive group of bright young minds. You can read more about them here.
But I must say, the similarities to the highly prestigious and incredibly elite tech entrepreneur club in Cape Town – The Rotherham Collection – is hard to ignore. Shrouded in secrecy, rumoured members are said to include Groupon’s Daniel Guasco and Wayne Gosling, GetSmarter’s Sam Paddock, Butler’s Pizza’s Rob Wilkinson and OurHood’s Bruce Good to name but a few.
Not that you should ask them, they’ll probably deny any knowledge of the organisation, if pressed. With meetings taking place in the Lord Nelson at the Belmond Mount Nelson, secrecy is assured.
No one knows exactly what is discussed at these meetings, attended by up to 50 people at a time, but one thing’s for sure – it’s big.
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