Q&A: Why Koch Wants to Grow the Next Great Breakthrough

March 13, 2018

With businesses stretching across a wide array of industries and continents, Koch Industries is committed to driving discoveries and innovations that will help people improve their lives. As Managing Director of the recently launched Koch Disruptive Technologies, LLC (KDT), Jason Illian sees tremendous potential for growth beyond the usual industries and typical startup hotspots.

Illian recently joined at VentureBeat’s Blueprint conference in Reno, Nevada, to discuss Koch’s role as partner and investor in tomorrow’s greatest innovations. He sat down with Koch News to recap his experience and lay out KDT’s vision:

What is KDT’s perspective on investing in innovation?

We see things differently. As a private company, Koch has the unique benefit of investing our own capital into transformative, high-growth companies with a long-term mindset. Rather than looking at specific industries, KDT considers how it can extend and expand its capabilities across our various businesses to help new companies grow. We are looking at a vast area of opportunities: industrial automation, big data, artificial intelligence, agriculture, robotics, and more.

While other groups may put restrictions and timing pressures on their investments, we take a holistic approach and allow these companies to operate where they can create the most value. Whether these companies choose to stay private, go public, or somewhere in between, we want to help them unlock their exponential potential and accelerate growth.

How can Koch be a force for positive disruption?

We believe in creative destruction—that is, thinking about ways to make our current processes and products obsolete by generating better solutions. People often think of innovation as a dramatic overnight event, but it’s more of a life-long process of incremental awareness and progressive change. We are looking for companies that not only complement our core businesses but also strengthen them, reinforcing existing capabilities while also creating new ones. When new technology companies emerge and interact with our core businesses, they can potentially accelerate and expand our global footprint. 

While we seek opportunities that can advance our current businesses, we also have to be open to investing in new capabilities and platforms. Our first significant investment this past December was in medical device company Insightec, based in Haifa, Israel, and Miami, which is revolutionizing surgery with MRI-guided focused ultrasound. Insightec’s non-invasive laser surgery is transforming lives by eradicating essential tremors, and it has the potential for numerous other life-changing medical applications.  These are the types of partnerships we like to create.  And we believe that great companies can emerge not only in places like Silicon Valley or New York, but also in Omaha, Indianapolis, Dallas, and various other locations around the world.

Why is it important to keep these local ecosystems thriving?

We’re based in Wichita, Kansas. So, when the conversation circles around the heartland and successful companies in non-traditional locations, Koch Industries is the perfect example of doing work and life differently. We are headquartered in Wichita, but Koch companies operate around the country and the world. There are brilliant, hard-working people all over the world, and we are constantly striving to connect with them. As a company with nearly 80 years of innovation and dedication, we are drawn to entrepreneurs who feel a strong connection to their communities. We work with community leaders, incubators and existing firms to find capital, for financial and knowledge growth.

We have to stay humble and hungry—humbled by the great success we have experienced at the hands of dedicated people, and hungry to not be satisfied or content with the status quo.  That’s what keeps KDT motivated to get out of our comfort zone and invest in disruptive technologies that will transform people’s lives.

See Jason’s full interview at Blueprint 2018 here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLF9D9RK-dw