US venture capitalist Peter Thiel has offered $100,000 to 24 young entrepreneurs providing they stay out of college for two years to further their business ideas.
In addition to co-founding PayPal and being an early investor in Facebook, Thiel is a hedge fund manager and has invested in numerous start-ups.
He recently appointed the first 24 Thiel Fellows for the 20 Under 20 Thiel Fellowship to pursue “innovative scientific and technical projects, learn entrepreneurship, and begin to build the technology companies of tomorrow.”
During a two-year tenure, each of them will receive $100,000 from the Thiel Foundation as well as mentorship from Thiel’s impressive network, under the proviso they stay out of college.
When Thiel announced the fellowship program last year, he said some of the world’s most transformative technologies are created by people “who’ve dropped out of school because they had ideas that couldn’t wait until graduation.”
Amir Nissen, who founded student-led entrepreneurship group Student Entrepreneurs at Melbourne University in 2007, says he can understand the logic behind Thiel’s program.
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“I can understand where he’s coming from in the sense that most people start uni after finishing high school as a sort of default and a lot of people, only whilst they’re at uni, then discover they don’t really fit into the normal patterns that the university offers,” Nissen says.
“When they do discover entrepreneurship, the university tends to take a back seat [as they develop their ideas].”
“It’s always nice to have the piece of paper [for a degree] as a fallback position but once you’re a certified entrepreneur, the idea of going back to uni is not really a viable thing or something that most people won’t stomach.”
“And you tend to sort of land on your feet… Once you’ve done the start-up thing and found what you enjoy, you don’t really fit into the big business type thing anyway, which is where a degree normally comes in handy.”
Nissen believes it will be awhile before Australia sees a program similar to Thiel’s.
“It would be awesome to have something like that here but I think we’re still some way away from that,” he says.
“I think before it happens here it’s likely that the opportunity in the States will be made available worldwide.”
“There’s nothing to say it couldn’t start here – if you’ve got the right angel or VC type investor – but I’d say we’re somewhere away from that.”