There’s not a single rule in the world of business that says you have to be a certain age in order to start your own company or startup–and if there is one, then that needs to be ripped out of the rule book and abolished from the minds of human civilization. Those starting a business or have an idea that can drastically change the world are the backbone to the creation of our economy, not to mention our society. Take a look at the ages of folks like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and many other successes. All started at a young age. Some probably prospered more than others because of the support system that they had.
In order to help foster the innovations, aspirations, hopes and dreams of future entrepreneurs, Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal, and well-known investor, decided he wanted to give something back and help the young people find their way so he started a program called the Thiel Fellowship where he would select 20 of the most brillant minds he could find, all under the age of 20, and give them a generous seed round to help fund their ambitions for the next two years. When you get down to the deeper meaning, it’s actually a means to back Mr. Thiel’s belief that entrepreneurs can be quite successful if they skip their post-secondary education. But why would someone be so bold as to abandon continuing their education? Well it could be for a variety of reason (too many for this post), but for Mr. Thiel, it’s because he says that the system is broken–the cost is not worth the benefit (you can read the industry’s reaction here). So rather than just complaining about the antiquated education system, he chose 20 high school students and gave them each $100,000 and started his Thiel Fellowship.
The first class of Thiel Fellows actually started last year and according to the Thiel Fellowship, the majority of those student participants have still done well. Now, the second class of students get their chance to shine and this next batch of 20 will be doing so much more than just creating the next social network–they’re going to be focusing on helping to change the world as we know it. Projects that they’ll be pursuing will involve developing cutting-edge technology relating to energy, robotics, 3D printing, biotechnology, medical breakthroughs, software & digital communications, education, public health, artificial intelligence, and open-source technology. Not bad, right? It’s definitely not your normal tech incubator. It’s almost as if it’s an incubator that merges Y Combinator’s support with the knowledge sharing that one would get out of TED talks.
So is the program worth it? Some might argue it isn’t, simply because of the overwhelming cost to the student for denying themselves the opportunity of attending a prestigious university. But others will say that it is because an idea and talent only happens probably once in a lifetime and as the adage says, you must strike when the iron is hot. But it is a big risk…something that you might think Mr. Thiel is recklessly gambling on. But it might surprise you that the results of the first class have been somewhat exceptional. According to Thiel Fellowship co-founder, Jim O’Neill:
Since becoming Thiel Fellows over the last year, members of our inaugural class have already done some amazing things. They’ve started and sold companies, closed million-dollar funding rounds, won international entrepreneurship and scientific awards, spearheaded innovative social movements, and begun to transform fields like education, software development, clean energy, electric vehicles, robotics, medical technology, and finance.
In an interesting twist, Mr. Thiel isn’t simply accepting 20 individuals into his flock and will give them each $100,000. Actually, it’s a competition of sorts. Something that will be broadcast on CNBC in a two-part series on August 13 and 14 this year. During this broadcast, you’ll watch as thousands of students apply for one of these prestigious entrepreneur positions in this fellowship to determine who makes it into the Fall 2012 class of “20 under 20″. 40 of those were named as finalists and were invited to San Francisco to compete to determine who would be chosen. These students come from a variety of educational positions, from high school to community college to university–all are competing for the chance to seek out their dream and change the world. Just who will be one of the the next innovators in this new two-year program? Well, you’ll have to watch CNBC to find out.
Will $100,000 be enough to help a student live out his or her dream to be the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg? Or will they decide that college is their best opportunity to grow and succeed? It’s a tough choice for anyone to make. But suffice it to say, whatever the student chooses, in the end the ideas that they have will either succeed or inspire someone else to live their dream and try to prevail.
The CNBC two-part special, “20 Under 20: Transforming Tomorrow” airs August 13 and 14 at 10PM ET/PT. Check your local listings for channel number.