GHIC 2021: Global Health & Innovation Conference
April 8-11, 2021
A Virtual Event

Innovator Update:

2016 GHIC Innovation Prize Winner Jason Kang

By: Benjamin Mellin, Carleton College '22

Jason Kang is on a mission to improve the health and safety of patients and healthcare workers around the world. We first met Jason in 2016, when he competed for and won the Unite For Sight GHIC Innovation Prize for "Highlight: Powdered Additive for Disinfectants to Improve Infectious Disease Decontamination." Jason and two fellow Columbia University students, Katherine Jin and Kevin Tyan, came up with the idea for Highlight as part of the Columbia University Ebola Design Challenge in October 2014. Highlight addresses high rates of healthcare worker infections in the field and patient infections in hospitals as a result of ineffective decontamination--often due to human error with missing spots on surfaces with a disinfectant.

Highlight is the flagship technology of Jason’s company, Kinnos. It is a patented color additive that is combined with existing bleach disinfectants. Highlight colorizes the disinfectant blue to provide visualization of coverage, ensuring that the user doesn’t miss a spot while disinfecting, and then the blue color automatically fades to clear after a few minutes. Highlight overcomes language, education, and training barriers by making disinfection an intuitive process: make sure everything is covered blue, once the color is gone, you’ve done a good job. Peer-reviewed studies have shown that Highlight quantifiably improves disinfection quality. 

 

(Kinnos Team: Kevin Tyan, Jason Kang, and Katherine Jin)

Kinnos has experienced rapid growth and has developed partnerships with end users as well as with funders. Since its early days as three co-founders, Kinnos has expanded to a team of twenty and have longer term plans to move into other verticals beyond healthcare. Although Kinnos’ initial work was largely focused on epidemic response in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), in 2017 Kinnos expanded its focus to everyday disinfection in U.S. hospitals as a way to create a more sustainable business model and enable it to subsidize its efforts in LMICs in the future.

The founders of Kinnos have won numerous prestigious awards including the Harvard President’s Innovation Challenge for Health & Life Sciences in 2019, the USAID Fighting Ebola Grand Challenge, and the USPTO Patent for Humanity Award in 2018. In addition, in 2016 the Kinnos team was named to Forbes 30 Under 30 in Healthcare. They have successfully raised capital from investors, including a $6 million funding round in early March. Notwithstanding these accolades, Jason wants aspiring entrepreneurs to know that there are more important things to consider: 

“I think the reality of it is that every founder makes decisions off of 51% information, they just hope it’s the right decision, and everyone is always dealing with challenges within their companies. For a long time, start-up culture has glamorized all these success stories and making it look like founders are superheroes, but it’s a real grind and a lot of entrepreneurs feel imposter syndrome and it’s ok to admit that. All of these accolades and funding rounds – none of these things matter as much as the impact you’re having on people’s lives and that you have a way to sustain it.” 

In fact, Jason notes that he has learned many lessons along the way, including one particularly memorable one in the early days of Kinnos when his team traveled to Liberia to do a field test of Highlight. After arriving, Jason and his team learned that bleach in Liberia is not the same as bleach in the United States, which made a significant difference in their chemical reaction. Luckily, the team had brought along the individual components of Highlight and were able to adjust their prototype on the fly and still get helpful feedback from healthcare workers in the field. This was a valuable learning opportunity for the Kinnos team and Jason noted that in the beginning stages of a startup, it is extremely important to “get out of the office, go talk to your end users, figure out who the customers are, get their feedback and iterate quickly.” 

Although he finds his work very gratifying, Jason is eager to dispel myths about the life of a young entrepreneur and he described the isolation of being at the head of his company and the importance of a founder network:

“Being a CEO can be a very lonely journey sometimes. It’s hard to find people that completely empathize with the decisions you have to make, the challenges that you’re facing. As CEO, you always feel this pressure to put your best foot forward, and be this calm, cool, confident leader in the face of all adversity. But of course, you’re just human like everyone else.”

Jason advises young entrepreneurs to find a strong network of other entrepreneurs they can share their experiences with and seek advice from, because it can be “super cathartic” to have people you can share all of your thoughts with and get some perspective that you’re not alone and that other founders are experiencing the same things.

Jason is wise and humble and driven. He is candid about the challenges involved in innovation and entrepreneurship, and we look forward to following Kinnos’ journey to becoming a major player in the $18 billion infection prevention market. 

Thank you to Jason Kang for sharing his insights with Unite For Sight. You can learn more about Kinnos at https://www.kinnos.us/.