Thiel Fellowship

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Thiel Fellowship
Thiel Fellowship Logo.png
Type Fellowship
Funded by Peter Thiel through the Thiel Foundation
Amount $100,000 (USD)
Frequency of selection Annual
Number of recipients 30 per year (increased from 20 per year when originally created)

The Thiel Fellowship (originally named 20 under 20, since it was restricted to at most 20 people under the age of 20) is a fellowship created by Peter Thiel through the Thiel Foundation. The fellowship is intended for students under the age of 22 (increased as of 2015 from the original age limit of 20) and grants them a total of $100,000 over two years, as well as guidance and other resources, to drop out of school and pursue other work, which could involve scientific research, creating a startup, or working on a social movement. Prospective fellows can apply on a rolling basis throughout the year, but the list of fellows is announced once a year, in June.[1] With an acceptance rate below 1%, the fellowship is considered more competitive than the nation's top colleges.[2]


Peter Thiel announced the fellowship at TechCrunch Disrupt in September 2010.[3] The first few years of the fellowship are described below:

  • The first class of fellows, based on applications made at the end of 2010, was announced in May 2011.[4][5]
  • The second class of fellows, based on applications made at the end of 2011, was announced in June 2012.[6][7]
  • The third class (announced in May 2013) includes 22 fellows working on projects from garment manufacturing and B2B web products to ARM powered servers and biomedicine. The class includes 7 fellows from outside of the US.[8]
  • The fourth class of fellows was announced in June 2014.[9]
  • The fifth class of fellows (announced in June 2015) includes 19 fellows. 2,800 people applied for this class. The announcement of the fifth class was also accompanied by an announcement of changes to the age limit and number of positions for subsequent years.[1][2]

In December 2013, Lora Kolodny wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal reviewing the Thiel Fellowship, where she wrote: "64 Thiel Fellows have started 67 for-profit ventures, raised $55.4 million in angel and venture funding, published two books, created 30 apps and 135 full-time jobs, and brought clean water and solar power to 6,000 Kenyans who needed it."[10]

A press release announcing the June 2015 Fellows noted that there were a record 2,800 applications for the Fellowship this year. It also reported that the 80 current and former Fellows had raised a total of $142 million in venture capital, generated $41 million in revenue, and created 375 jobs. The press release also noted changes to the program: the number of applicants admitted yearly was increased to 30, the age limit was increased to 22, and applications could now be made on a rolling basis throughout the year, so that people who wanted to build something great did not need to wait for a year to do so.[1][2]


Notable recipients[edit]

A full list of recipients is available on the Thiel Fellowship website.[11] Notable recipients include:

  • Caroline Beckman co-founder of health food companies Nomva and Suja (the nation’s leading organic and cold-pressed juice brand obtained a $90M investment by Coca Cola in 2015).
  • Ritesh Agarwal, founder of OYO Rooms, a service providing a network of branded budget hotels in India, has raised over 25 million dollars with the total company valuation at over a hundred million dollars.
  • Laura Deming, who plans to work on commercializing anti-aging research. Deming started her undergraduate studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology at age 14.[12] After becoming a Thiel Fellow, Deming co-founded Floreat Capital, which describes itself as "a specialty life science venture capital firm focused on early-stage pharmaceutical companies developing therapies for aging-associated pathology."[13]
  • William LeGate, co-founder of Ponder, a mobile application aimed at democratizing social media by giving everyone an equal voice which Teen Vogue described as a place with "No trolls, bullying, or negativity. Just cool photos & videos."[14] Ponder's backers include Greylock Partners, Tinder founders Sean Rad and Justin Mateen, and Mark Cuban.[15]
  • Dan Friedman, founder of Thinkful, an online school that teaches technology skills through 1-on-1 mentorship.[16]
  • Eden Full, founder of Roseicollis Technologies, and inventor of a solar panel tracking system called SunSaluter. After the completion of her two-year fellowship period, Full decided to return to Princeton University (where she had secured admission prior to becoming a Thiel Fellow) to pursue mechanical engineering.[17]
  • Paul Gu, co-founder of Upstart, a platform that allows people to raise money in exchange for a percentage of their future income.[18]
  • Andrew Hsu, founder of Airy Labs, an educational gaming startup that raised over a million dollars but was later reported to have run into problems due to its management style.[19]
  • Adam Munich, an experimental physicist currently working to mobilize radiography.[20]
  • Dale J. Stephens, founder of UnCollege, a social movement that aims to change the notion that going to college is the only path to success.[21]
  • Thomas Sohmers, who unveiled a new super fast computer server that was highly energy-efficient at the Open Compute Summit organized by Facebook.[22]
  • Sujay Tyle, COO of Developer Auction, former employee of Scopely, an educational gaming startup.[23][24]
  • Kevin Wang, a Thiel Fellow that worked on software summarization software TLDR legal [25]
  • Ari Weinstein, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology dropout who co-founded Workflow, an app that was number one on the Apple App store.[26][27]
  • Taylor Wilson, nuclear physicist who at age 14 in 2008 was the youngest person to build a nuclear fusor. In 2011 he won the Intel Foundation Young Scientist Award for building a practical and less expensive radiation detector.

Documentary series following some recipients[edit]

The Thiel Fellowship launched a website called "20 Under 20 Documentary Series" that features an online documentary series of four Thiel Fellowship recipients. The students featured in the series are Laura Deming, Chris Rueth, Sujay Tyle, and Alex Kiselev.[28]


Encouraging more breakthrough innovation[edit]

Peter Thiel has expressed the view that there has been much less cutting-edge innovation in recent years than there should be and this lack of technological progress is responsible for the slowdown in economic growth, which is at least partially responsible for recent bubbles and downturns.[29] The Thiel Fellowship, by providing money to people to pursue radical innovation, is an attempt by Thiel to help address the problem.

Many recipients of the Thiel Fellowship are planning to work in some of the areas where Thiel thinks that radical breakthroughs would be most beneficial. For instance, Laura Deming, one of the Thiel Fellows, plans to work on the commercialization of anti-aging research,[12] one of the causes to which Thiel has been a regular donor.

Questioning the education bubble[edit]

Thiel has expressed the view that one of the top candidates for the next bubble in the United States is higher education. He said: "Education may be the only thing people still believe in in the United States. To question education is really dangerous. It is the absolute taboo. It's like telling the world there's no Santa Claus."[30]

Thiel has argued that, although education is definitely useful for some career paths and people do learn many valuable things in college, there are many career paths, such as entrepreneurship, for which higher education is not useful and it simply leads them to waste years when they may have been doing something more productive.[31] He views the Thiel Fellowship as one of many alternate paths to success that would undermine the social pressure that people feel to go to college even if they are not deriving value from it. A similar view was expressed by Thiel Foundation members Jim O'Neill and Michael Gibson in a piece for Fast Company magazine.[32]

A June 2015 article in the Wall Street Journal about the Fellowship suggested, with the help of anecdotes, that the Fellowship had been successful in this goal, and had made dropping out of college to start your own company more honorable.[33]


Initial reception[edit]

Thiel's announcement of the Thiel Fellowship met with a diverse array of responses. Some, such as Jacob Weisberg, criticized Thiel's proposal for its utopianism and attack on the importance of education.[34] Others, such as Vivek Wadhwa, expressed skepticism about whether the success or failure of the Thiel Fellowship would carry any broader lessons regarding the value of higher education or the wisdom of dropping out.[35]

Others, such as Bryan Caplan and Steven Bell, praised Thiel for undermining the education bubble and encouraging people to consider alternative paths to success.[36][37]

In May 2011, shortly after the announcement of the first batch of Thiel Fellows, the admissions office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology congratulated two MIT students for receiving the Thiel Fellowship. Both students would need to drop out of MIT to receive the fellowship, but would be able to return to MIT to resume their studies after completing the two-year term of the fellowship if they so desired.[38]

Later reception[edit]

A year after the announcement of the first batch of Thiel Fellows, opinions on the program ranged from the skeptical and critical to the laudatory and optimistic, as seen in the answers to a Quora question about the achievements of the first batch of Thiel Fellows.[39]

Eric Markowitz offered a mixed review of the Thiel Fellowship in Inc. magazine.[40]

In April 2013, an article by Richard Nieva for PandoDaily took a close look at how the first batch of Thiel Fellows had fared.[41]

The Thiel Fellowship aimed to remove the gender diversity gap.[42]

A Quora question asked in 2013 about the final results for the Thiel fellows had received one response as of September 2013, attempting to trace each of the Thiel Fellows.[43]

In September 2013, Vivek Wadhwa wrote that the Thiel Fellowship had failed to produce any notable successes to date, and even its limited successes were instances where the Thiel Fellows were working in collaboration with more experienced individuals.[17]

On October 10, 2013, former Harvard University President Larry Summers was reported as having said at the Nantucket Project conference: "I think the single most misdirected bit of philanthropy in this decade is Peter Thiel's special program to bribe people to drop out of college." His remarks were reported on by many media outlets, ranging from TechCrunch to Valleywag.[44][45][46] On October 13, TechCrunch published a response to Summers co-written by a Thiel Fellow and a mentor for the Thiel Fellowship program.[47]

In December 2013, Lora Kolodny wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal reviewing the Thiel Fellowship, where she wrote: "64 Thiel Fellows have started 67 for-profit ventures, raised $55.4 million in angel and venture funding, published two books, created 30 apps and 135 full-time jobs, and brought clean water and solar power to 6,000 Kenyans who needed it."[10]

In late December 2013, Thiel Fellow Delian Asparouhov published a lengthy article giving advice on how to select a project and present it to maximize one's chances with the Thiel Fellowship application.[48]

A June 2015 article by Daisuke Wakabayashi in the Wall Street Journal described the Thiel Fellowship and credited it for being one of the influences responsible for making dropping out of college to start a company as an honorable choice.[33]


  1. ^ a b c "[Press Release] Thiel Foundation Announces 2015 Thiel Fellows, Expands Fellowship Program". Thiel Fellowship. June 5, 2015. Retrieved June 6, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c McAlone, Nathan (June 6, 2015). "Billionaire Peter Thiel is giving these 20 kids $100,000 to drop out of college and start companies". Business Insider. Retrieved June 6, 2015. 
  3. ^ Siegler, MG (2010-09-27). "Peter Thiel Has New Initiative To Pay Kids To "Stop Out Of School"". TechCrunch. Retrieved 2012-06-23. 
  4. ^ Wauters, Robin (2011-05-25). "Young Entrepreneurs Rule: Meet Peter Thiel's First 20 under 20 Fellows". TechCrunch. 
  5. ^ Wieder, Ben (2011-05-25). "Thiel Fellowship Pays 24 Talented Students $100,000 Not to Attend College". Chronicle of Higher Education. 
  6. ^ "Peter Thiel Announces 2012 Class of 20 Under 20 Thiel Fellows". Thiel Fellowship website. 2012-06-13. 
  7. ^ Cutler, Kim-Mai (2012-06-14). "Nuclear Fusion, 3D Printing, Biomedical Imaging: What Thiel’s New 20 Under 20 Fellows Are Attacking". TechCrunch. 
  8. ^ "This Year’s Thiel Fellows Include A Fashion Designer, A Poet, And A Harvard Dropout". 2013-05-13. 
  9. ^ "20 Teens Win $100K: Announcing the 2014 Thiel Fellows". TechCrunch. June 5, 2014. Retrieved June 12, 2014. 
  10. ^ a b Kolodny, Lora (December 18, 2013). "Why a Nonprofit Backs Dropping Out of School: PayPal Founder's Foundation Encourages Learning by Doing". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved January 28, 2014. 
  11. ^ "About". The Thiel Fellowship. Retrieved 2016-07-17. 
  12. ^ a b "Meet The Teen Who Got Paid $100 000 To Drop Out Of School". Retrieved 2016-07-17. 
  13. ^ [1][dead link]
  14. ^ "This New Social Media App Doesn't Want to Help Make You Famous". Teen Vogue. 2016-05-23. Retrieved 2016-06-01. 
  15. ^ "Ponder is the anti-Kardashian photo-sharing app". New York Post. 2016-04-14. Retrieved 2016-06-01. 
  16. ^ "Peter Thiel Makes First Investment in a Thiel Fellows Company". Wall Street Journal. 2013-02-26. 
  17. ^ a b Wadhwa, Vivek (2013-09-11). "Billionaire's Failed Education Experiment Proves There's No Shortcut To Success". Forbes. Retrieved 2013-09-15. 
  18. ^ "Upstart: Where You Can Hope to Stake the Next Mark Zuckerberg". CNBC. 2013-04-28. 
  19. ^ "Big Cuts at Airy Labs, Ex-Employees Blame Management". TechCrunch. 2012-02-11. 
  20. ^ "Peter Thiel Announces 2014 Class of Thiel Fellows". Yahoo Finance. SFO Businesswire. Retrieved 16 June 2014. 
  21. ^ "Dale Stephens: ‘Unschoolers create their education’". Washington Post. 2012-08-12. 
  22. ^ Bort, Julie (January 29, 2014). "This 17-Year-Old Dropped Out Of High School For Peter Thiel And Built A Game-Changing New Kind Of Computer". Business Insider. Retrieved January 28, 2014. 
  23. ^ Butcher, Mike (2012-06-26). "Sujay Tyle of Scopely [TCTV]". TechCrunch. 
  24. ^ "Profile of Sujay Tyle". Thiel Fellowship. 
  25. ^ "Software Licenses Explained in Plain English". Retrieved 2016-07-17. 
  26. ^ Bowles, Nellie. "The Real Teens of Silicon Valley Inside the almost-adult lives of the industry’s newest recruits". California Sunday Magazine. Retrieved 28 May 2015. 
  27. ^ "ABOUT ARI WEINSTEIN". Thiel Fellowship. Retrieved 28 May 2015. 
  28. ^ "About the Series: 20 under 20". Retrieved 2013-04-20. 
  29. ^ Rip Empson (2011-09-12). "Max Levchin and Peter Thiel: Innovation In The World Today Is Between Dire Straits And Dead". TechCrunch. 
  30. ^ Sarah Lacy (2011-04-10). "Peter Thiel: We're in a Bubble and It's Not the Internet. It's Higher Education.". TechCrunch. 
  31. ^ Thiel, Peter. "College Doesn’t Create Success". Room for Debate, New York Times. 
  32. ^ "Thiel Foundation To New Crop Of College-Bound Grads: Don't Go | Fast Company | Business + Innovation". Fast Company. 2011-12-22. Retrieved 2016-07-17. 
  33. ^ a b Wakabayashi, Daisuke (June 3, 2015). "College Dropouts Thrive in Tech. Quitting school to start a company used to be seen as risky; now an honor". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved June 6, 2015. 
  34. ^ Weisberg, Jacob (2010-10-18). "What's Wrong with Silicon Valley Libertarianism". Newsweek. Retrieved 2010-10-19. 
  35. ^ Wadhwa, Vivek (2011-04-12). "Friends Don’t Let Friends Take Education Advice From Peter Thiel". TechCrunch. 
  36. ^ Caplan, Bryan (2010-10-20). "Thiel's Priceless Publicity". Retrieved 2012-06-08. 
  37. ^ Bell, Steven (2012-01-12). "The Big Question of 2011: Who Needs College?". 
  38. ^ McGann, Mike (2011-05-26). "Incentive to Drop Out". MIT Admissions Blog. Retrieved 2012-06-23. 
  39. ^ "What were the results of the first Thiel Fellowship Class?". Quora. 
  40. ^ Markowitz, Eric (2012-10-16). "Examining the Thiel Fellowship: Is It Worthwhile?". Inc Magazine. Retrieved 2012-11-27. 
  41. ^ Nieva, Richard (2013-04-24). "Examining the Thiel Fellowship: Where are they now?". PandoDaily. Retrieved 2013-04-25. 
  42. ^ "» Thiel Fellowship Fosters Next Generation of Innovators Women 2.0". 2014-07-25. Retrieved 2016-07-17. 
  43. ^ "What were the results of the first Thiel fellowship class as of 2013?". Quora. Retrieved 2013-09-15. 
  44. ^ Ferenstein, Gregory (October 10, 2013). "Thiel Fellows Program Is 'Most Misdirected Piece Of Philanthropy', Says Larry Summers". Retrieved April 14, 2014. 
  45. ^ Tiku, Nitasha (October 11, 2013). "Summers: Thiel Fellows Is 'Most Misdirected Piece Of Philanthropy'". Retrieved April 14, 2014. 
  46. ^ Weinstock, Samuel Y. (October 14, 2013). "Summers: Thiel Fellowship 'The Single Most Misdirected Bit of Philanthropy in This Decade'". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved April 14, 2014. 
  47. ^ Silver, Darrell; Friedman, Dan (October 13, 2013). "Of Course Harvard’s Larry Summers Hates The Thiel Fellowship". TechCrunch. Retrieved April 14, 2014. 
  48. ^ Asparouhov, Delian (December 26, 2013). "Thiel Fellowship Application Advice". Retrieved April 14, 2014. 

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