From India West
BERKELEY, Calif. – Naveen Jain is the chief executive officer of Intelius, a Bellevue, Wash.-based Web security firm with annual revenues of $150 million and more than 350 employees.
Before that he founded and headed InfoSpace, which became a very successful publicly traded data aggregation company before encountering problems at the end of the dotcom era.
Jain in April launched Mountain View, Calif.-based Moon Express, which he co-founded with the plan to mine the moon for its rare materials.
But all that the serial entrepreneur wanted to talk about while being interviewed here by India-West on the sidelines of the Economist conference (I-W, April 8), was h is philanthropic work – that and the fact that his children are following in his footsteps.
“I’m spending 60 to 70 percent of my time on my philanthropic work,” he exclaimed on a rainy day at a Berkeley coffeehouse.
“Entrepreneurship can solve basic human problems and many of these fundamental problems relate to health care and education.”
Jain currently sits on a number of science, technology and education boards, including chairing the education and global development initiative of the X Prize Foundation.
He wants to fund a $1 million incentive challenge at X Prize for an entrepreneur who creates software running on a mobile device, able to be operated by minimally-trained individuals, that can diagnose common diseases in the developing world.
A trained village person would perform the tests and the results would be sent to medical experts at nearby hospitals for follow-up care. “The device could be rented out for $5 a day by a village girl,” he enthused.
The inventor who comes up with a solution, maybe even if the device tests just the five or six most common diseases, could win $1 million, depending on the X Prize panel’s decision.
“The reason I like challenge grants is that you get what you incentivize,” Jain said, adding, “There’s lots of smart people out there.”
Another X Prize grant he may fund is $1 million related to one of Jain’s favorite fields of study, neuroscience. “The brain has a plasticity. It is constantly being wired and rewired,” he said, pointing out that only a fraction of brainpower is used in such activities as reading.
Jain wants to fund accelerated learning made possible through game technology.
He will award a grant to someone who can come up with a “multi-sensory game, with motion, sound and an intense emotional experience, in a video game system, that is effective, addictive and viral, and that enables learning.”
He imagines hundreds of thousands of people online playing and learning. “If this country can create better learners, we will leave a better country for our children,” he said.
Jain is a director on the board of Singularity University and also a board member of the nonprofit Kairos Society, a global network of undergraduate students using entrepreneurship to solve world challenges.
If the concept sounds familiar, it is because Kairos was founded by Jain’s son, Ankur Jain, a student at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania who has been profiled by the national media. The New York Stock Exchange and the United Nations co-hosted the 2011 Kairos Global Summit Feb. 25-26 in New York.
Young entrepreneurs from around the world, including 24 from India, attended the event, Jain said, clearly proud that his son is following in philanthropy.
In addition, he said, “Our daughter, Priyanka, has started the IcareWEcare organization to do social good socially,” he told India-West. “Previously, she was the founder of Circle of Women for high school girls to build schools for girls in developing countries.”
His latest venture, Moon Express, which Jain chairs, is building robotic rovers alongside scientists at NASA’s Ames Research Center near South San Francisco. The machines are designed to look for materials that are scarce on Earth.
“From an entrepreneur’s perspective, the moon has never truly been explored,” Jain told the Los Angeles Times. "We think it could hold resources that benefit Earth and all humanity.”
The other two cofounders are CTO Barney Pell, former head architect of Microsoft’s Bing Internet search engine; and CEO Robert “Bob” Richards, founder of International Space University, and a former NASA manager.
MoonEx has received a NASA contract that could be worth up to $10 million. The company is among several teams hoping to win Google’s Lunar X Prize competition, a $30-million race to the moon in which a privately funded team must successfully place a robot on the moon’s surface and have it explore at least one-third of a mile. The team also must transmit high-definition video and images back to Earth before 2016.
“Mankind is standing on the threshold of finding precious minerals and metals on the moon that in the future will power everything from electric car batteries to aerospace applications,” Jain told India-West last week by e-mail.
“This is just beginning. The non-radioactive isotope, Helium-3, which is rare on Earth, but believed to be more abundant on the moon, is sought for use in nuclear fusion research.
“I believe we are about to uncover the moon’s many vital resources, including large quantities of platinum that will solve Earth’s present resource and energy problems and make a better world for my children and for generations to come. I started Moon Express to find the resources to significantly improve the quality of life on Earth.”
“MoonEx should be ready to land on the lunar surface by 2013," Jain told the Times. “It’s our goal to be the first company there and stay there.”
Jain grew up in New Delhi in a poor family. He said his father worked for the government, but the family stayed poor because his father steadfastly refused to take any bribes, meaning he could never be promoted.
“My mother was not educated, but like most Indians, she cared deeply about education for her children. She thought it could make a difference in people’s lives.”
Jain received an engineering degree from the Indian Institute of Technology in Roorkee in 1979 and an MBA from XLRI Jamshedpur School of Management in 1982.
In 1983, Burroughs accepted him for a business exchange program in New Jersey and in 1989, he was hired by Microsoft, where he later worked on the Windows NT and Windows 95 operating systems and was on the management team that launched the Microsoft Network.
Jain founded InfoSpace in March 1996 and served as CEO until 2000. His net worth ranked him high on the list of Forbes’ richest Americans, but problems at InfoSpace led to him finally resigning as CEO in 2001 and leaving the board of directors a few years later.
Jain said he bounced back and founded Intelius to help people “manage their own identity.”
“You have to protect your family, whether you are hiring a teacher or a gardener or anyone else.” The company does background and security checks. Many of those who worked under him at InfoSpace joined him at Intelius, he said.
Jain was awarded the “Light of India Business Leadership Award” for “visionary entrepreneurship,” by the Times Group April 25. Indians from around the world voted for the award.