'Shark Tank' for college students helps young entrepreneurs get funding

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The Kairos Society introduces top college entrepreneurs to business leaders who have invested millions in their products.

When most Los Angeles residents first heard about the "Carmaggedon" freeway closures on the 405, they worried about traffic.

Daniel Rudyak and Curren Krasnoff saw things a little differently. They saw a business opportunity.

"We were stuck behind big cement mixing trucks and we said, 'This can't do. This is way too old of an industry to have no disruptive technology,'" said Rudyak.

Together they created Cortex Composites. It's a new kind of concrete material.

Customers can roll it out like a carpet and then water it. Less than 24 hours later, it hardens.

"This is harder than your normal concrete," said Krasnoff.

Rudyak said the half-inch material replaces 6 inches of traditional concrete. Factoring in labor costs, Rudyak said it costs half as much to install as traditional concrete.

The Los Angeles-based company led by two men in their early 20s has already racked up more than $23 million in sales in less than a year.

They credit the Kairos Society with helping them achieve most of those.

"Kairos has allowed me to get myself in front of the decision makers and show we have a product that can really change the world," said Rudyak.

The Kairos Society was created, in part, to introduce the top college-aged entrepreneurs from around the world to business leaders.

Those business leaders provide mentoring and, possibly, a financial investment in their companies.

In some ways, it mimics the ABC series "Shark Tank."

Like the show, entrepreneurs have an opportunity to make a quick pitch about their products to those controlling capital. This happens at the annual Kairos Global Summit.

This year's event was held in Dana Point. It featured 350 young entrepreneurs from 59 countries. They presented to 150 industry leaders from various fields.

"Everything here truly does solve a problem and the entrepreneurs are often solving problems that are relevant to them," said Kairos Society CEO Alex Fiance.

Fiance, who grew up in Agoura Hills and graduated from USC, said Kairos companies have raised $43 million in funding since their previous summit event.

"All the entrepreneurs here prove that if you want to solve a problem, you can build a business that does so as long as you have the patience and tenacity to stick with it," said Fiance.

The Kairos Society selects the top 50 companies to be spotlighted as what they call the "K50."

Those companies include:

Vital Vio: When Colleen Curlin discovered that her grandmother caught an infection inside a hospital, she was outraged. After researching the issue, she realized that hospital-borne infections are serious.

She created Vital Vio to try and prevent them.

It is a white light that kills bacteria but is not harmful to humans.

"We really look to address that significant financial burden and save lives by preventing infections that are caused by uncleanliness within an environment," said Costello. "Hospitals can benefit from this type of lighting but also restaurants, gyms, public bathrooms -- all these places have issues with bacteria."

Oxie: Sarah Tulin and Tal Azouri created Oxie to deal with the problem of air pollution.

"One day a bus came past and blew all of its exhaust in my face and I started to think, "How can I not breathe in all this bad air?", said Tulin.

Oxie replaces the surgical masks some wore outside after the SARS outbreak with a new wearable device powered by smartphone technology.

The device discretely releases purified air all around a user's face. "You're in a virtual bubble of purified air," said Tulin.

Codie: Andras Hollo and Adam Lipecz started Codie to teach young kids how to code.

In some ways, it replaces the remote control car of years past.

With Codie, kids can use an app on their smartphones to control robots on wheels.

Hollo said it is aimed at kids ages 10 through 14.

Lightbot: Lightbot also teaches coding, but via a video game.

Founder Danny Yaroslavski said he's seen kids as young as 4 enjoying the game.

"We know we're really on to something, getting kids excited about coding," said Yaroslavski.

Reecycle: Reecycle recycles critical rare earth elements from products, including computer hard drives.

Co-founder Cassandra Hoang and her colleagues helped create a patented solution that draws out neodymium and dysprosium from materials that would have mostly been discarded.

"Right now, it's just thrown into a shredder and it's being sold for contaminated scrap for about 40 cents per pound," said Hoang.

The company has been highlighted by the U.S. Department of Energy as a top clean energy business plan.

Grove Labs: Grove Labs is creating an appliance that helps consumers grow fresh, organic food inside their own homes, using the power of fish waste.

"The fish waste is converted by bacteria into high-grade organic fertilizer, which goes up to the plants -- fertilizes the plants -- and they return the water back to the fish. So, you have a close-loop ecosystem," said co-founder Jamie Byron.

He added, "Its exactly what happens outdoor in nature -- you're just bringing this into an appliance where you can grow food in your home."

The plants grow thanks to LED lights, which mimic the sun. The entire thing is powered by computer technology accessible on a smartphone.

"We want to get people to eat more vegetables and eat more organic, healthy vegetables without destroying the Earth," said Byron.

Grove Labs is being tested out as a prototype right now. The company hopes to have the cost under $1,000 in the next few years.

"Eventually, it will pay for itself both in grocery costs and health costs because you're consuming more vegetables," said Byron.

For more information on the Kairos Society, visit kairossociety.org.


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technologytechnologywearable techentrepreneurshipbusinessDana Point
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