SAN FRANCISCO, CA - Warning that America's long term economic prospects are uncertain without radical innovation in technology, Peter Thiel this week launched the Thiel Fellowship to foster the next generation of tech visionaries. The new program will support 20 entrepreneurs under 20 years old with grants of up to $100,000.
"Our world needs more breakthrough technologies,Â said Thiel. "From Facebook to SpaceX to Halcyon Molecular, some of the world's most transformational technologies were created by people who stopped out of school because they had ideas that couldn't wait until graduation. This fellowship will encourage the most brilliant and promising young people not to wait on their ideas, either. The Thiel Fellows will change the world and call it a senior thesis.Â
The Thiel Foundation will award 20 people under 20 years old cash grants of $100,000 to further their innovative scientific and technical ideas. In addition, over a two year period, Peter Thiel's network of tech entrepreneurs and philanthropistsÂdrawn from PayPal, Facebook, Palantir Technologies, Founders Fund, the Singularity Institute, and othersÂwill teach the recipients about creating disruptive technologies and offer mentorship, employment opportunities, support, and training.
"University is a tremendously valuable experience, but when entrepreneurs are ready to launch, they should do so immediately, rather than sticking around to satisfy expectations of a full four years of college or eight of grad school,Â said Elon Musk, who co-founded Tesla Motors, SpaceX, and PayPal. Musk himself stopped out of his graduate program before classes began to co-found his first company Zip2, which he sold to Compaq for $307 million.
"There is absolutely no experience that matches the real world, so if you have the passion and drive and want to work on a great idea, you should just do it,Â said Scott Banister. Banister left the University of Illinois before taking a degree and founded ListBot, the largest ASP for business email, and IronPort, the anti-spam company that Cisco acquired for $830 million.
"Because education seeks to impart past knowledge, when you are trying to create a technological breakthrough, you have to create new knowledge, and there is no way to teach that. There was no course at University of Arizona on 'how to cure aging.' Hopefully, this program will allow others to work on ambitious projects themselves, before they've taken on a crippling amount of student debt,Â said William Andregg, CEO and co-founder of Halcyon Molecular. Halcyon is a start-up that has developed a breakthrough technology for fast, cheap, and highly accurate sequencing of DNA, and whose ultimate goal is to use sequencing data to support therapeutic products that vastly extend healthy lifespans.
"Inventing and producing a pedal-powered cell phone charging station to help Africans stay connected looks better on a resumé than straight A's in college, and takes the same amount of time,Â said Michael Vassar, president of the nonprofit Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence.
Though applicants may already have scientific, technical, or nonprofit ideas, the Thiel Fellowship will not be limited to those with developed innovations. Teams of up to four may also apply. Applications will be available in October and due later in the fall, with the fellowship beginning in 2011.