This Local Accelerator Program is Training Future Tech Talent

Graduates of TKS have gone on to work at the likes of NASA, SpaceX and OpenAI, or start their own ventures valued at hundreds of millions.

Illustration by Gust of Wind Studio.

In its first seven years, TKS (The Knowledge Society) has produced some of the youngest quantum computing engineers, artificial intelligence developers, synthetic biologists and blockchain engineers, plus some of the youngest employees at organizations like NASA, SpaceX, OpenAI, Microsoft, IBM, Google, Apple and Tesla. Alumni of TKS’s 10-month innovation program for youth aged 13-17 have also gone on to start their own companies valued at more than $200 million.

It’s impressive, no doubt, but TKS’s ethos is about inspiring young people to make a difference, rather than a fortune. “While we teach emerging tech and sciences, we teach it through the lens of how we can solve really large problems in the world,” says Elisha Kramer, Head of Growth at TKS.

Co-founded by Calgarian brothers Navid and Nadeem Nathoo, who found wealth and success in Silicon Valley and New York, respectively, TKS soft-launched in Calgary in 2016 and in Toronto in 2017. The brothers modelled it after the world’s leading startup accelerators and adapted to accelerate the younger generation, particularly in young people whose brilliance often remains hidden in traditional education settings. To design TKS, Navid leveraged relationships from his network at Harvard to access professors and programs at institutions including Harvard Innovation Lab, Stanford, TechStars, Alchemist Accelerator, Y Combinator and others. Nadeem, meanwhile, leveraged his network through MBA programs at institutions such as Wharton and Massachusetts Institute of Technology and consulting organizations like McKinsey, BCG and others. TKS operates in New York, Vancouver and Dubai, with dozens of cities around the globe slated to launch and more than 4,000 alumni of the program worldwide. The Calgary program relaunched in September 2023. “Calgary has become a vibrant tech scene. It’s a really unique ecosystem for homegrown tech,” Kramer says.

The TKS program mimics the environments of high-growth startups in Silicon Valley, with a curriculum based on tech incubation programs at several Ivy League institutions. Students who are accepted into TKS spend three hours per week at Platform Calgary, exploring cutting-edge innovations, learning business and leadership skills and training mindsets used by top CEOs and entrepreneurs, and designing their own technical and scientific projects to address issues like climate change, affordable housing, disease diagnoses and education. They are given access to mentorship opportunities from more than 200 experts at companies like Google, Meta and Amazon.

Around 100 students will be accepted into the next Calgary cohort in September 2024. In keeping with TKS’s mission to uncover and encourage the brightest minds, admission is not based on grades or previous tech-related experience. Instead, students record a short video answering interview questions. Financial support is also available for those who can’t afford tuition. “We’re only looking for three things: curiosity, willingness to put in work, and a desire to make an impact,” Kramer says.

Learn more about the people and organizations moving Calgary forward with Avenue's Innovation Newsletter.

This article appears in the May 2024 issue of Avenue Calgary.

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