Thiel Fellowship

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Thiel Fellowship
Thiel Fellowship Logo.png
Funded byPeter Thiel through the Thiel Foundation
LeadershipBlake Masters and Jack Abraham
Amount$100,000 (USD)
Frequency of selectionAnnual
Number of recipients20–25 per year

The Thiel Fellowship (originally named 20 under 20) is a fellowship created by Peter Thiel through the Thiel Foundation. The fellowship is intended for students under the age of 23 and offers 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. Selection for the fellowship is through a competitive annual process, with about 20–25 fellows selected annually. It has a selection rate below 1%.


Peter Thiel announced the fellowship at TechCrunch Disrupt in September 2010.[1] The first round of fellows, based on applications made at the end of 2010, was announced in May 2011.[2][3] The second round of fellows, based on applications made at the end of 2011, was announced in June 2012.[4][5] 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.[6] 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."[7] The 2014 Thiel Fellows were announced in June 2014.[8]


Notable recipients[edit]

Notable recipients include:[9]

  • Adam Munich, an experimental physicist currently working to mobilize radiography.[10]
  • Boyan Slat, founder and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup[11].
  • Ben Yu, founder of Sprayable[12] and creator of Sprayable Energy[13] and Sprayable Sleep.[14]
  • 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.[15]
  • 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.[16]
  • James Proud, founder of the failed company Hello and creator of Hello Sense, a personal sleep tracker.[17]
  • Ritesh Agarwal, founder and CEO of OYO Rooms, which raised $250 million in 2017.[18]
  • Taylor Wilson, the youngest person to produce nuclear fusion.[19]
  • Vitalik Buterin, co-creator of Ethereum.[20]
  • Austin Russell, founder of Luminar, a company that develops high performance LIDAR systems.
  • Cathy Tie - Founder of Ranomics and Partner at Cervin Ventures[21]
  • Thomas Sohmers, founder of REX Computing, a company which develops high performance, energy efficient computer processors.
  • Aparna Krishnan, co-founder of Mechanism Labs, first open source block chain lab in the world.

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.[22][23]


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.[24] 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.[25]

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.[26]

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.

Eric Markowitz offered a mixed review of the Thiel Fellowship in Inc. magazine.[27]

In April 2013, an article by Richard Nieva for PandoDaily took a close look at how the first batch of Thiel Fellows had fared.[28]

The Thiel Fellowship aimed to remove the gender diversity gap.[29]

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.[16]

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.[30][31][32] On October 13, TechCrunch published a response to Summers co-written by a Thiel Fellow and a mentor for the Thiel Fellowship program.[33]

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.[34]


  1. ^ Siegler, MG (2010-09-27). "Peter Thiel Has New Initiative To Pay Kids To "Stop Out Of School"". TechCrunch. Retrieved 2012-06-23.
  2. ^ Wauters, Robin (2011-05-25). "Young Entrepreneurs Rule: Meet Peter Thiel's First 20 under 20 Fellows". TechCrunch.
  3. ^ Wieder, Ben (2011-05-25). "Thiel Fellowship Pays 24 Talented Students $100,000 Not to Attend College". Chronicle of Higher Education.
  4. ^ "Peter Thiel Announces 2012 Class of 20 Under 20 Thiel Fellows". Thiel Fellowship website. 2012-06-13. Archived from the original on 2012-11-13.
  5. ^ Cutler, Kim-Mai (2012-06-14). "Nuclear Fusion, 3D Printing, Biomedical Imaging: What Thiel's New 20 Under 20 Fellows Are Attacking". TechCrunch.
  6. ^ "This Year's Thiel Fellows Include A Fashion Designer, A Poet, And A Harvard Dropout". 2013-05-13.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ "20 Teens Win $100K: Announcing the 2014 Thiel Fellows". TechCrunch. June 5, 2014. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  9. ^ Thiel Fellowship website: Meet the Fellows
  10. ^ "Peter Thiel Announces 2014 Class of Thiel Fellows". Yahoo Finance. SFO Businesswire. Retrieved 16 June 2014.
  11. ^, Susan Caminiti, special to (2017-04-22). "Thiel, Benioff backing 22-year-old's dream to clean up world's oceans". Retrieved 2017-07-14.
  12. ^ "Coming Soon: A Jolt Of Caffeine You Can Spray On Your Skin". Retrieved 2017-08-07.
  13. ^ Hamblin, James. "The New Coffee Is Made for Your Skin". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2017-08-07.
  14. ^ "Forget counting sheep, just buy a can of sprayable sleep -". 2015-03-12. Retrieved 2017-08-07.
  15. ^ "Dale Stephens: 'Unschoolers create their education'". Washington Post. 2012-08-12.
  16. ^ a b Wadhwa, Vivek (2013-09-11). "Billionaire's Failed Education Experiment Proves There's No Shortcut To Success". Forbes. Retrieved 2013-09-15.
  17. ^ Solomon, Brian. "Peter Thiel's Chosen One: This 25-Year-Old CEO Wants To Make Sleep A Billion-Dollar Business". Forbes. Retrieved 2017-08-07.
  18. ^ Sharma, Samidha (2017-04-24). "Oyo Rooms closing $250-mn round led by SoftBank, will be valued at $850 mn". The Economic Times. Retrieved 2017-08-07.
  19. ^ "The Boy Who Played With Fusion". Popular Science. Retrieved 2017-08-07.
  20. ^ "Vitalik Buterin". Fortune. 2016-09-22. Retrieved 2017-08-07.
  21. ^ "Cervin Team – Cervin Ventures". Retrieved 2018-11-17.
  22. ^ "About the Series: 20 under 20". The Thiel Foundation. 2012. Archived from the original on 18 October 2013. Retrieved 2013-04-20.
  23. ^ "20 Under 20 Documentary Highlights Entrepreneurial Potential of Education Dropouts". Education in Review. 23 Aug 2012. Retrieved 8 Jun 2018.
  24. ^ Weisberg, Jacob (2010-10-18). "What's Wrong with Silicon Valley Libertarianism". Newsweek. Retrieved 2010-10-19.
  25. ^ Wadhwa, Vivek (2011-04-12). "Friends Don't Let Friends Take Education Advice From Peter Thiel". TechCrunch.
  26. ^ McGann, Mike (2011-05-26). "Incentive to Drop Out". MIT Admissions Blog. Retrieved 2012-06-23.
  27. ^ Markowitz, Eric (2012-10-16). "Examining the Thiel Fellowship: Is It Worthwhile?". Inc Magazine. Retrieved 2012-11-27.
  28. ^ Nieva, Richard (2013-04-24). "Examining the Thiel Fellowship: Where are they now?". PandoDaily. Retrieved 2013-04-25.
  29. ^
  30. ^ Ferenstein, Gregory (October 10, 2013). "Thiel Fellows Program Is 'Most Misdirected Piece Of Philanthropy', Says Larry Summers". Retrieved April 14, 2014.
  31. ^ Tiku, Nitasha (October 11, 2013). "Summers: Thiel Fellows Is 'Most Misdirected Piece Of Philanthropy'". Archived from the original on April 15, 2014. Retrieved April 14, 2014.
  32. ^ 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.
  33. ^ Silver, Darrell; Friedman, Dan (October 13, 2013). "Of Course Harvard's Larry Summers Hates The Thiel Fellowship". TechCrunch. Retrieved April 14, 2014.
  34. ^ Asparouhov, Delian (December 26, 2013). "Thiel Fellowship Application Advice". Retrieved April 14, 2014.

External links[edit]