May 25, 2011
Twenty four young adults will receive $100,000 each to begin building the technology companies of the future; however, they will need to leave college for two years to develop their businesses.
According to a press release, these 24 individuals were selected from over 400 applications as the winners of the 20 Under 20 Thiel Fellowship. Each Fellow will receive $100,000 from the Thiel Foundation and will have the opportunity to work with a network of tech entrepreneurs to develop their ideas, which are in the areas of biotech, career development, economics and finance, education, energy, information technology, mobility, robotics and space. Originally, the plan was to select 20 winners, but with a pool of very impressive candidates, Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, who announced the winners on Wednesday, said it was "impossible to pick only 20".
"The Fellows are a tremendous group of young people who are going to advance the frontiers of knowledge, shake up staid industries, and change the world," said Thiel. The Fellows are all 20 years old or younger and some will leave prestigious institutions such as Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University.
As reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education, the fellowship aims to help young people develop their ideas more quickly than they would at a traditional university, which has sparked controversy within academia.
Thiel, who studied philosophy at Stanford and later completed law school there, told The Chronicle of Higher Education that the rising cost of a college degree and high student debt now make higher education a risky investment.
"If you get this wrong, it's actually a mistake that's hard to undo for the rest of your life," he said.
Critics argued that the Mark Zuckerberg entrepreneur success story only applies to a tiny fraction of students and noted that Thiel's success was aided by the business relationships he developed while he attended Stanford, proving that college is a worthwhile investment.
Brian Rosenberg, president of Macalester College in Saint Paul, MN, told Bloomberg Businessweek, "Mr. Thiel's program seems not unlike luring college athletes out of degree completion with the promise of a career in the NFL or NBA."
Business Insider noted that during a talk a UC Berkeley, Thiel defended the fellowship, saying that the college route may not be right for everyone. Thiel also told Bloomberg Businessweek that, unlike professional sports, "If you're an entrepreneur and you're successful, it's probably something you can sustain throughout your career."
Most of the chosen students accepted the fellowship and said they were ready to leave school to take on the new challenge.
"Entrepreneurship and college isn't necessarily something that can be mixed," said Eden W. Full, a fellowship winner from Princeton University, to The Chronicle of Higher Education. "Learning about it in a classroom isn't going to tell me if something will work or not."
Gary Kurek, who graduated from high school last year and was offered a full engineering scholarship at the University of Calgary, opted to take a year off to build his business GET Mobility Solutions. As one of the fellowship winners, Kurek plans to invest some of the $100,000 in testing and refining his product, motorized walkers.
"Innovation is created by taking new paths, not following existing ones," said Kurek. "And creating a new path is exactly what this fellowship is allowing us to do."
Compiled by Heidi M. Agustin
"Peter Thiel Announces Inaugural Class of 20 Under 20 Thiel Fellows," thielfoundation.org, May 25, 2011
"Peter Thiel Explains Why Dropping Out Is Cool," businessinsider.com, May 2, 2011, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry
"Thiel Awards 24 Under-20 Fellowships," businessweek.com, May 25, 2011, Douglas MacMillan
"Thiel Fellowship Pays 24 Talented Students $100,000 Not to Attend College," chronicle.com, May 25, 2011, Ben Wieder