Last weekend, I attended the Kairos Global Summit, held at the United Nations and the New York Stock Exchange, and had the opportunity to meet 50 incredibly cool, young startup founders. The Kairos Society was founded by 21-year-old Akur Jain, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton undergraduate program, and the son of Intelius CEO Naveen Jain. His intention was to assemble the world's most entrepreneurial college students and encourage them, by giving them access to mentors, to start businesses that solve major world problems. At the event this weekend, approximately 300 "Kairos fellows" met with mentors from private industry, the not for profit sector, and government to discuss big issues like world hunger, access to clean water, higher education, energy consumption, empowering women globally, and expanding access to health care. Jain's goal was to jumpstart the startup process for a new generation of entrepreneurs, who he hopes will create global companies from the get-go. The students had plenty of inspiration, because they were able to meet "50 most innovative student ventures," presented by The Campaign for Free Enterprise, on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange last Saturday. Here are just a few of the companies that knocked my socks off:
- Solben. Founded by chemical engineering student Daniel Gomez IÃ±iguez, Solben is a biodiesel fuel company in Monterrey, Mexico. Gomez invented a new way to produce bio-diesel and is focusing on commercializing his bio-diesel plants. Solben currently has 25 employees working on green technology ventures; Gomez was also first runner up at last year's Global Student Entrepreneurship Awards.
- Neverware. Computer hardware manufacturers should be losing sleep over this one. Founder Jonathan Hefter has developed a server appliance called the Neverware Juicebox a100 that, when connected to an organization's network, allows all old desktop computers to run state of the art software at high speeds. The implications are huge for cash strapped public schools and developing countries.
- BPG Motors. This company doesn't want to pimp your ride, it wants to transform your ride. Founder Ben Gulak developed the Uno 3, a green, motorized self-balancing unicycle on steroids that can turn itself into a traditional-looking motorcycle with the flip of a switch. At Kairos, he unveiled a new vehicle called the DTV Shredder, which is described as part tank, part skateboard, and part motocross bike. Fun stuff, sure, but the technology is green and the Shredder may also be of use to the military.
- Ball and Buck. At first glance, this looks like just another pricey, preppy clothing company. But founder Mark Bollman distinguishes it with a mission to carry only products that are made in U.S. and to create the company's own branded products with American craftspeople. This guy hopes to have his own U.S.-based factory one day. I wish more young entrepreneurs thought in terms of supporting U.S. manufacturing.
- SolÃ© Bicycle. Partners Jonathan Shriftman and Jake Medwell produce hand-made, well-built, and affordably priced ($310) fixed-gear bicycles largely from recycled parts. The company has been featured on Gilt.com and was just named one of America's Coolest College Startups by Inc. Magazine.
- PurBlu Beverages. Ben Lewis's company makes healthy bottled beverages that allow customers to give back to their own communities with every purchase. Working with local distributors, the company donates a dime to location-specific charities for every bottle sold. PurBlu has international distribution; you can also buy the products on Amazon.com. This company reminds me a lot of OneHope Wine, another very cool company that uses cause branding effectively.
- ThinkLite. I like this company's business model. Co-founders Dinesh Wadhwani and Enrico Palmerino help businesses and private households adopt energy efficient lighting solutions with no upfront costs. They measure energy consumption, and then come up with a turnkey solution that guarantees energy savings up to 90%. ThinkLite gets a percentage of the savings realized by their customers.
- HelloParking. Okay, this one probably won't change the world, but it might seriously improve the lives and temperaments of those of us who struggle with urban parking. Co-founder Chris Hoogewerff connects property managers, real estate brokers, and homeowners who have unused parking spaces with people in search of short-term daily parking. Ideally, I'll be able to log on to the site on the day I'm driving into Manhattan for dinner and score an empty spot for $15. Sweet.
- TreeHeir. This social venture allows you to offset your carbon emissions by planting carbon-absorbing saplings, which are then tagged with your personalized messages (like "this is where I had my first kiss" or "a teacher changed my life at this school). Founders Rishabh Ladha and Gagan Uberoi have come up with a great way to make the "plant a tree" movement more personal and meaningful.
- Sporting-Sails. This one is just for fun. Brothers Billy and Nick Smith created a multi-purpose parachute-like device that you can attach to your body with Velcro straps and nylon hand loops. Pair it with any action sport that involves a downhill decent (like skateboarding, skiing, or snowboarding) and you've got a cool new way to control your ride by harnessing wind power.