Young tech entrepreneur Ankur Jain is seeking to solve the world’s biggest problems

Changing the stethoscope a suitable challenge

Invented 200 years ago by René Laennec at the Necker-Enfants Malades Hospital in Paris, the stethoscope has undergone few changes over the decades, which is why Ankur Jain chose it as a suitable case for treatment by the Kairos Society, an organisation of tech entrepreneurs seeking to solve real-world problems.

"When you think of medicine and doctors, the iconic symbol is the stethoscope. And yet there hasn't really been any major innovation in the stethoscope for 200 years," said Jain (26), speaking to The Irish Times on the fringes of the Rise tech gathering in Hong Kong, which is organised by WebSummit.

Jain's tech CV is impeccable. His father, Naveen Jain, founded Intelius, while he is co-founder of the San Francisco start-up Humin, a platform for managing contacts by cross-referencing apps, such as your calendar or phone, into one app. So it does things like it remembers how you know someone, say, by where you met, and then allows you to search this way.

In March this year the Dublin-headquartered dating app Tinder bought Humin's technology and IP.


But first off Jain is keen to talk about Kairos, which is ancient Greek for “supreme moment”.

The network aims to “solve the world’s biggest challenges”. There is nothing understated about Kairos’ or Jain’s, ambition.

He founded the society as an undergraduate at the Wharton School in 2008, when the tech world was reeling from the global financial crisis.

Run by students, the club has fellows in 60 countries, and focuses on innovations in education, cleantech and biotech and healthcare. It organises its own annual summit.

Given that cardiovascular disease is one of the leading death causes worldwide, the Kairos people looked at it and found that by treating the stethoscope as a digital instrument instead of just an acoustic manual instrument, artificial intelligence (AI) could be used to detect cardiovascular symptoms early enough to prevent them.

It could also allow for doctors anywhere in the world to treat patients without having to physically be there.

“It’s so simple and yet so obvious. And it came from the fact that a young entrepreneur looked at an existing industry from a new perspective and wasn’t so biased to ask the same questions over again but to ask questions so fundamental they stopped being asked 20 or 30 years ago,” said Jain.

As fellows graduate, they nominate younger fellows. Each member can nominate one person, and there are only 25 fellows per region.

The community has an investment arm with seed capital that then invests in start-ups

“Nomination is the key. We have found historically that a lot of the intangibles that drive founders you can’t find it on paper. A lot of people have their resumés packed, but maybe they spent their time building their resumés and not building products for companies.”

He lists off some of the projects he is particularly proud off.

Kairos backed a team of MIT undergraduate students who invented a shock absorber that harnesses energy from small bumps in the road, generating electricity while it smooths the ride more effectively than conventional shocks. This increases fuel efficiency by 10 per cent.

"Then you have fellows like Kayvon [Beykpour], working out of Kairos Stanford, who graduated and was trying to decide what to do. He decided to focus on live video streaming and started a company that we now know as Periscope," said Jain.

Daniel Gomez, who founded the Mexico-based Solben, was an undergraduate student in biochemistry at the University Technologico de Monterrey looking at energy consumption.

He found that most energy needed by farmers in Mexico was too small when they started out to warrant a massive alternative energy plan.

So Gomez rebuilt a biodiesel production facility in a scaleable modular system so that a farmer could have a biodiesel production system that could scale as the farmer’s capacity grew.

“It’s a pretty diverse spectrum but a common theme of tackling problems that can apply globally and taking a slightly different approach – not so radical in its technology – but more in its perspective and the way they approach it,” said Jain.

Jain is appearing at Rise and clearly enjoying the buzz of the event.

He says chatbots are a big theme.

“The new buzzword in the tech world is chatbots, but in all the frenzy and hype I think people may be missing why this type of technology has the potential to cause a revolution.

“It’s the not the AI or the chatbots per se, it’s actually the new user interface, which is a conversational type.

“I think you are going to see emerging from all the noise about chatbots is not necessarily companies that are building chatbots but are actually leveraging this as an interface to tackle industries that still haven’t been disrupted.”

In the immediate term these industries include healthcare, legal, finance or education.

“These are spaces that are very service-heavy and people-based,” he said.

Looking forward it is all about harnessing the talent and focus of an entire generation of engineering, science, business and design students coming out of college for the first time without all the pressure to go straight into consulting, banking and traditional Fortune companies, he said. This is where Humin and Kairos overlap.

“Most founders fail from indigestion not starvation,” said Jain.