Jakob Van Zyl, PhD

Principal, Physical Sciences

As a Principal for Physical Sciences, Jakob oversees the diverse portfolio of investments across the spectrum of physical science disciplines; each holding the promise of providing fundamental advancements to everyday life. His responsibilities include the end-to-end cycle of technology development and transition–from the identification of cutting-edge, new technologies with high impact potential to working daily with new companies as they transition from a possible incubation to a Series A investment.

Prior to joining Kairos, Jakob spent 33 years at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California where he started as a researcher in 1986. He joined the JPL Executive Council in 2002 where he served as the Director for Astronomy, Physics and Space Technology, the Associate Director of JPL responsible for Project Formulation and Strategy, and the Director for Solar System Exploration. He was instrumental in the development of innovative technologies during his time as Associate Director, including the first deep space small satellites to launch and operate all the way to Mars (2018) and the demonstration of a small helicopter for increased mobility on Mars, to be launched in 2020. He concluded his career at JPL with the spectacularly successful landing of the Insight lander on Mars in November 2018.

Jakob is the coauthor of the texts Introduction to the Physics and Techniques of Remote Sensing: Second Edition and Synthetic Aperture Radar Polarimetry. He has contributed to eighteen other books and published more than 60 papers in peer-reviewed journals and gave numerous keynote speeches at technical conferences. Besides being a Principal, Physical Sciences at Kairos Ventures Investments, he is also the CEO and co-founder of Hydrosat, a data analytics and space remote sensing startup company and a Senior Faculty Associate at Caltech where he teaches the graduate course Physics and Techniques of Remote Sensing and an Extraordinary Professor at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa.