"I rebuilt myself into a big success
and I'm determined to use that
success to help rebuild others too"
ABOUT TEJ KOHLI
Tej Kohli was born in Delhi, India in 1958, the son of a journalist father and a diplomat mother. In 1980 he graduated in Electrical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur. In 1998 he met wife Wendy in Costa Rica and decided to stay until 2006, when the Kohli family moved to the United Kingdom. Today in addition to being an investor and philanthropist he is a father to two teenagers and a supercar enthusiast.
In 1999 Tej Kohli started a payment gateways company in Costa Rica that dominated high-risk sectors such as gaming, dating and travel because of its proprietary fraud protection software. The company grew quickly by specialising in a wide array of associated services; and later also acquired and turned around a number of distressed online gaming properties.
Tej sold this company in 2006 and turned his focus to the ‘Zibel’ real estate portfolio in the UAE, Europe, India and South East Asia. The Kohli family also moved to a new family home in the United Kingdom, where Tej also became a prolific investor into innovative growth-stage technology ventures focused on artificial intelligence, robotics and genomics.
THE TEJ KOHLI FOUDATION
Wendy and Tej Kohli founded the Tej Kohli Foundation in 2005. The Foundation focuses on developing solutions to major global health challenges. Under the guidance of Wendy and Tej Kohli, the Foundation has become a global hub for interdisciplinary innovation as part of a global mission to eliminate needless corneal blindness worldwide by 2035. The Tej Kohli Foundation also supports projects such as the provision of fully funded 3D-printed bionic limbs to young people in the United Kingdom who are living with with limb difference, as well as other social projects.
Blindness is heavily impacted by poverty. The World Health Organisation says that 14 million of the 39 million people on the planet who are blind live in India. 12.7 million people are currently waiting for a cornea transplant worldwide, of which 6 million are in India.
In 2010 the Tej Kohli Foundation funded its first donor cornea implants at Niramaya Hospital. Tej Kohli was present when a 50-year-old patient had his bandages removed after a corneal transplant and saw his wife and grown up children for the first time. Tej and Wendy immediately decided that eliminating corneal blindness would be their new calling.
After funding corneal transplants at Niramaya Hospital for five years, in 2015 the Tej Kohli Foundation substantially expanded its efforts to tackle corneal blindness in poor and underserved communities with the ambitious launch the Tej Kohli Cornea Institute. Between January 2016 and November 2019 the Institute welcomed more than 223,404 outpatients and completed more than 43,255 surgical procedures, mostly for free.
ERADICATING CORNEAL BLINDNESS
Corneal transplants require donor or synthetic cornea, which are applied using sutures during highly invasive surgery. Given the costs and complications of this surgical approach, it is not possible to ‘eliminate’ curable corneal blindness in this way. Therefore, Tej Kohli has long been advocating for and supporting research toward a ‘universal treatment’.
The Tej Kohli Foundation’ has been pursuing this ‘universal treatment’ for corneal blindness through it’s ‘Applied Research’ program, a longstanding scientific collaboration between researchers in Montreal Canada, and Moorfields Eye Hospital, UK. Early efforts focused on synthesising synthetic cornea, first from yeast and then from peptides.
In January 2020 the ‘Applied Research’ program announced that it had moved one step closer in its mission to invest an affordable, accessible and scalable universal cure for corneal blindness through the regeneration of corneal tissue using an innovative proprietary technology.
In 2019 Tej Kohli also made an initial donation of $2m to fund the Tej Kohli Cornea Program at Massachusetts Eye And Ear in Boston, a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, to accelerate innovative and collaborative research to achieve new breakthroughs in corneal disease.
Tej Kohli is a strong believer in the power of technology to improve human life, and in late 2019 he was proud to launch the Tej Kohli Foundation’s UK-based project: the ‘Future Bionics’ program. The program funds the purchase and fitting of 3D-printed bionic ‘Hero Arms’ for young people with limb difference in the UK; and highlights how technology can substantially improve the lives and confidence of younger people living with disabilities.
The programme launched in late 2019 at the Open Bionics headquarters in Bristol, United Kingdom, where Wendy and Tej Kohli met with 14-year-old Open Bionics ambassador and motivational speaker Tilly Lockey alongside the first two recipients of the program. TeJ Kohli instigated the Future Bionics program as it epitomises that the Tej Kohli Foundation is about: using technological innovations to improve individual lives and prospects.
Tej and Wendy Kohli founded their first major philanthropic project in Costa Rica in 2005. Since then the ‘FundaKohli’ program has fed hundreds of children every week in its free soup kitchens. The enduring program represents Tej’s commitment to continue to give back to the country where he met Wendy and enjoyed his contemporary business success.
The ‘FundaKohli’ program ensures that hundreds of families and children have access to vital nutrition and sustenance. It also provides them with other support structures and facilities so that underprivileged families can get the little extra help they need to flourish. Wendy and Tej Kohli have not lived in Costa Rica since 2006, however their commitment to the FundaKohli project and the families that it supports will always endure.
When Wendy and Tej Kohli set up the Tej Kohli Foundation in 2005, a core objective was to focus on grassroots philanthropy rather than on donating money to existing charities. This has led to a number of 'impact initiatives'.
In 2019 Wendy and Tej Kohli authorised the ‘Impact Initiatives’ program to commission a documentary film to highlight the plight of children in India living with Xeroderma pigmentosum (XP), a rare genetic condition. Many are forced to live their life in the shadows, as young people with XP face significant social stigma. The physical effects of the condition includes corneal blindness, and the absence of clinical knowledge and specialist care services in many communities robs young sufferers of their prospects.
The XP ‘Impact Initiative’ sought to highlight the plight of India’s XP children through a series of high profile collaborations. Working with internationally renowned photographer Simon Townsley and the Global Health section of The Telegraph, the Tej Kohli Foundation brought the realities of life of Indian children with XP visibly to the fore in a major photographic study and news feature. The independent documentary short about XP, which is called SeeAgainFilm.com, premiered at the 2020 Manchester International Film Festival and is now touring film festivals worldwide to raise awareness..
Tej Kohli believes in biotech solutions to some of the world’s greatest public health challenges, and that joining the technological frontiers of AI and biotech can substantially improve human life. However the development of new and early stage biotechnologies requires a very high appetite for risk and lots of patience.
Because of his long-term investment horizon and a ‘return on investment’ calculus that gives equal weighting to humanitarian impact as to financial return, as a private investor through Kohli Ventures, Tej is able to provide long term funding commitments to biotech ventures that would not fall within the typical investment criteria of institutional investors.
Tej is the lead backer of Detraxi, a US-based company that plans to save millions of lives worldwide by developing its proprietary biotechnology solution for a range of global health challenges. Detraxi is working in collaboration with some of the worlds most talented and respected scientists across fluid replacement, diagnostics, transplantation and regenerative medicine. The Detraxi biotechnology has already undergone several clinical studies. It is currently undergoing pre-clinical trials at Johns Hopkins University.
NB: Detraxi is a commercial investment that is not connected to the Tej Kohli Foundation.
RENEWABLE ENERGY INVESTMENT
In 2005 Tej Kohli made a significant funding commitment through Kohli Ventures to an emerging solar products and renewable energy company based in South East Asia. The company focused on off-grid solar products which can have a transformational social impact by clean and renewable bringing devolved power generation capabilities into thousands of poor homes in rural India. At the time of the investment over 50,000 solar installations had already taken place in India, and the business planned to expand the established company substantially to serve remote and rural communities worldwide, including in many African states where the company had strong commercial ties, with a $500m 5-year revenue target.
NB: Tej Kohli exited the investment in 2017. This renewable energy investment was not connected to the Tej Kohli Foundation.
Tej Kohli is an advocate of a unique form of venture philanthropy as a vehicle for boosting development and prosperity throughout the Global South. Artificial intelligence is already transforming developing countries, and the United Nations ‘AI for Good’ campaign is fostering dialogue amongst policy makers on the beneficial use of technology for humanitarian work. Tej Kohli believes that technology investors must also have a seat at the table, and since 2018 has made two substantial investments into Rewired, a robotics-focused venture studio with a humanitarian bent. Companies within the Rewired portfolio are working on a technological solution to substantially increase the proportion of plastics that are viable for recycling; the development of affordable prosthetics, and portable machines designed to improve manufacturing processes.
NB: these are commercial investments that are not connected to the Tej Kohli Foundation.
REBUILDING YOU: THE PHILANTHROPY HANDBOOK BY TEJ KOHLI
In ‘Rebuilding You: The Philanthropy Handbook’ Tej Kohli Cornea Institute founder Tej Kohli shares the wisdom that he has garnered during his two-decade transition into philanthropy so that would-be philanthropists can avoid common mistakes and maximize their own impact.
Tej Kohli says that you don’t need to be Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or Michael Milken to be able to make a difference as a philanthropist and that anyone with wealth can help others. But many of the formulas upon which would-be philanthropists have built their wealth simply will not work as they start to give their wealth away. To succeed as a philanthropist, you must also be ready to change your analysis and how you think. You must rebuild you.