To round out the AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassadors interviews conducted in Washington D.C. during the AAAS Annual Meeting, we spoke to three additional Ambassadors over the phone: including Jason Kang. We spoke to the Ambassadors about the importance of invention, the impact of their work, and what it has been like to be an Invention Ambassador. In this blog we recap Jason’s reflections into becoming an inventor.
I think that’s really the point of being an inventor —working on tangible problems, and it takes new ideas and innovation to do that.
Jason Kang is the CEO and cofounder of Kinnos, a startup company protecting patients and health workers from infections. Holding two patents and named as one of Forbes 30 under 30 for Healthcare in 2016, he is passionate about creating a positive effect on people’s lives.
What influenced you to be an inventor?
My initial influence was my dad, who’s a professor and has a couple patents himself. I thought I’d follow his footsteps in academia, but as I got older, I started working at start-ups and doing more product development work, and I really liked that what I was working on could have a tangible and relatively immediate impact. Being able to improve someone else’s life is what really motivated me to invent.
What advice would you give to prospective inventors?
Invention is a mindset: it’s this idea of solving a problem that makes a positive impact on humanity and I think that mentality lends itself to anyone. People don’t realize that they solve problems everyday — once they make the commitment to solving problems that also helps others, they’re an inventor. I’d say the most important skill is the ability to learn new things. For example, I don’t have a PhD, I don’t have dozens of years in the industry, and I’m relatively young, but our team has been able to invent something novel and figure out how to get it to market. For those who are on the fence about committing to inventing, you’ll never feel fully prepared and you just need to have the confidence that you’ll be able to learn everything you need to along the way.
How would you recommend getting funding for inventions?
If you’re a student, there are a ton of student competitions out there that provide non-dilutive grants and prize money.Another source of funding would be from the government or innovation-driven foundations. We benefited a lot in the early days from a USAID Fighting Ebola Grand Challenge grant, which provided us with significant funding to conduct R&D and field-testing in Liberia and Guinea. I believe the government and foundations have a significant role to play in driving invention as they’re able to fund riskier, high-impact ideas that allow for the development and data collection of the first invention prototypes. This de-risks the invention by creating proof points and evidence, allowing traditional investors to then provide funding.
Why did you choose to create a company rather than license?
The appeal of starting your own company is that you’re really hands on with the entire process. Personally, when we were first coming up with developing the technology, we realized that we wanted to be the people on the ground, interacting with the end users, the patients, and health workers. The impact of our invention is what drives us. Developing that personal relationship with the people that you’re helping is really important for actually taking the technology from concept to product. When you license it, it’s no longer completely in your control. And it’s harder to really have that personal investment and motivation into making it succeed.
How has the AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassador Program inspired you?
The Invention Ambassador program is great because you become part of a community of like-minded people who all share the same passion for enacting a positive impact on the world. With that comes access to a wealth of knowledge from the current and past ambassadors and their peers. You’re able to talk about difficult problems that you’re facing with people who are also in the trenches with you, to get their perspectives and to share ideas. I think that’s invaluable.
Another aspect of the program that’s unique is the ability to get invited into different communities to share why invention is so important. From a personal standpoint, that exposure is helpful as you expand your network by telling your journey and inviting people to think about the problem as well. From a societal standpoint, being an Invention Ambassador reminds you that inventing and solving problems isn’t an individual task, but on the shoulders of everyone to solve pressing problems. If we’re able to inspire people to take on this role of the inventor and make them feel confident enough to try, then we’ve done our job as Ambassadors.