Brian Kam ’16, veteran entrepreneur back at the frontline

Brian Kam, ‘16, a Syracuse University College of Arts and Sciences and Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs graduate, is a veteran entrepreneur who has devoted his life to public service.  From working on the frontline in the United States Marines Corps, where he enlisted after high school, to his work now in the trenches fighting COVID-19, he is the first to step in when there is a crisis.

Profoundly affected by seeing 9/11 unfolding on television when he was younger, he felt compelled to serve. He joined the Marine Corps delayed entry program at age 16, enlisted at 18, and served in the Iraq War and post-Katrina New Orleans. After completing his US Marine Corps service in 2007, Kam studied Arabic languages at the University of Jordan and competed an intensive language program training with the Middlebury Language School.  He enrolled at SU in 2012 and double majored in International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies, where during his senior year he participated in Maxwell in Washington.

While in DC, Kam optimized a connection he made at his senior year internship and traveled to Nepal where he volunteered after the destructive earthquake there in 2015.  The Gorkha earthquake, which happened in seconds, killing 9,000 people, injuring 21,000, and leaving 3.5 million homeless. Kam saw vivid images of people suffering and dying, which moved him to action.

Coming back to campus, he used that experience to put his passion for service to work, combined with his sense of adventure through entrepreneurship.  Working with the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars at SU Libraries, he founded a nonprofit called Thrive Projects Inc. with fellow students Ryan Brinkerhoff, ’16 (Maxwell) and Joshua Moon ’16 (Arts and Sciences).  Thrive worked with communities, high schools and colleges in Nepal on sustainable development through hyper-localized vocational training programs and community-based projects for those in need.  In 2017, the team won first place in the impact entrepreneurship sector of the New York Business Plan Competition, and also went on to the regional finals of the prestigious Hult Prize, considered the Nobel Prize for student social impact ventures.  (

This year the team is focusing on professional development to broaden their skill sets. Moon is in the MCAT process and Brinkerhoff is in law school.  Kam is finishing his Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of Rochester. The past year and a half have led him to working on his capstone, and his final assignment.  This has led him to fight a very different frontline than his years in the Marines.

Kam recalls that the Marine Corps “gave him the mentality to do things he does now by helping to define his character.”

Starting this month, Kam has been working at the Monroe County Health Department in Rochester, New York testing people for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), engaging in contact tracing, education and follow up with sick patients. Simply put, Kam now back at the frontline as a medical worker for COVID-19.

Although Kam started to volunteer with the Health Department this month, he has been following the infectious pandemic since early January. As a full-time nursing student, he still made time to personally educate himself about the contact and spread of COVID-19.

He believes it is important to continuously fuel your passion and also to plan, to be prepared to succeed. “Victory loves preparation,” he says.

When Kam is not working at the Health Department, he also conducts product validation for Apiary Medical. Kam’s Marine Corps mentor asked Kam to translate some Chinese documents which led to a full-time job as the Sourcing Manager for the company. There could not be a more appropriate time to work for an American company that dispatches personal protective equipment (PPE). As Kam got more involved with Apiary, he was able to perfectly connect the work of the international medical supply chain with what he was seeing on the frontlines at the Health Department. That job inspires him to learn more about the equipment he and frontline workers use to stay safe.

He intrinsically believes that, “It is not enough to use this equipment. I want to understand the technical components of the PPE that is needed.” For example, because he has to understand the equipment to present it to government officials for registration numbers and for authenticity purposes.  He now knows the different filtration capacities and testing components of different protective masks and how different environments require different filtration capacities.

Brian remains actively engaged with the Syracuse University LaunchPad as a mentor and advisor.  He still works closely with the LaunchPad and has actively re-engaged around the COVID-19 challenge.  This past weekend, April 24 to 26, he was the facilitative lead for a team of Syracuse University students who participated in the Techstars COVID-19 Online Startup Weekend:  Unite to Fight COVID-19.  Over a period of more than 55 hours the team rapidly assessed problems, explored solutions, conducted rapid research and discovery, and developed a MVP to pitch to judges.  More than 1,000 inventors and innovators came together from around the globe to be part of the challenge.  Kam lent his perspectives as a frontline health professional, as well as a disaster relief responder. The intensity of research and discovery that went into the process of creating a solution was extremely impressive, with Kam spearheading the discussions about needs in unprecedented times.

It is abundantly clear that Kam is living the University’s motto, “Suos Cultores Scientia Coronat,” — Knowledge Crowns Those Who Seek Her.

He genuinely believes that the more resources are invested in preparation — for example, studying or reaching out to past mentors — the more things will fall into place. Since leaving Syracuse University, Kam’s preparation has helped him create victories because he continues to pursue knowledge and help others.  He brings a warrior’s heart to that mission, each day.

Story by Blackstone LaunchPad Global Media Fellow Emma Tyler Rothman Photo supplied