Tips for Student Inventors from the Trenches

Young Jason

On October 10, 2017, AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassador Jason Kang gave a keynote speech at the Invent Oregon (InventOR) Finals at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, Oregon. Supported by Business Oregon and The Lemelson Foundation, the competition provided a unique opportunity for undergraduates, graduates and postdocs from Oregon colleges and community colleges (plus one high school team) to compete for grants and prizes to fund their inventive ideas. Teams were given $2500 to build a prototype and were matched with a business development mentor and a workspace in which to refine their ideas in preparation for the final competition.

As an inventor who started his first business in college, Jason was well-positioned to give hard-won, straight advice to these young and aspiring inventors. While participating in the USAID Fighting Ebola Grand Challenge as a biomedical engineering undergrad at Columbia University, Jason co-invented Highlight®, a patent-pending additive that greatly improves visibility, coverage, and end-user compliance of disinfectants, currently focused on bleach. After the competition, Kang and his partners quickly founded Kinnos, a New York-based company that aims to raise the standard of infectious disease decontamination to protect healthcare workers, patients, and the general public. Prior to Kinnos, Jason served as vice president of engineering at Jibon Health Technologies, where he invented a low-cost medical device to treat postpartum hemorrhage.

Jason gave the following tips to collegiate inventors who are just starting out and want to make an impact in the world through their inventions.

  1. You do not get to decide if your product is good. The utility of your device is decided by those who actually use it. Jason learned this lesson the hard way. After creating and testing an earlier version of the Highlight® formula, Jason and his partners discovered that the common bleach used in Africa is an entirely different chemical compound than the one popular in North America – and therefore had to completely restart their formula.
  2. Emotional connection is a great driver. Empathy is inspirational, and when you see how your invention actually changes peoples’ lives, that may be all you need to keep pushing forward. Jason experienced this first hand when while testing Highlight® in West Africa, he saw the relief it brought to Ebola healthcare workers who gained confidence in their safety and felt protected in the face of such a deadly virus.
  3. Put your tech out there. What you have now maybe better than what’s out there. The longer you wait, the longer people deal with the problem. Publicize your work without fear of people stealing your ideas. Ideas are just ideas – but execution is what matters. If you do what you do well, people will be interested in partnering with you, not competing, not stealing.
  4. Ask for help and discern what is important. The best mentors you’ll find are those just a few steps ahead of yourself. Those who have made an invention and/or created a startup recently are often familiar with current trends that can provide you with a competitive edge and remember what it was like to be you. Also, when seeking advice, prioritizing is important. People will try to tell you what’s best for you. As a tangible and difficult example, Jason and the co-founders had many offers of support to do things with Kinnos that they were not interested in doing at the time. They held out for investors who were better aligned with their vision and plan, and the wait paid off.
  5. Don’t get distracted by others. Don’t create work you don’t need to do – stay focused on your goals and on your vision for what your life should look like.

Ebola Grand Challenge


Any Inventors Out There?

Applications open for the 2018-2018 cohort of Invention Ambassadors on November 20, 2017. Consider applying or nominating an outstanding inventor and communicator. For more information, please visit our application webpage.

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Watch excerpts from Jason’s talk here

 

For more information on Jason’s story and inventions, please see the program featured in Science Magazine.

For more about the InventOR and the finalists, see: www.inventoregon.org.