Entrepreneurship or Higher Education but not both

Peter Thiel is an American businessman, co-founder of PayPal and an early investor of Facebook. As a venture capital investor he has seen his share of successes. He has helped a whole new generation of tech companies, including SpaceX, LinkedIn, Causes, RoboteX or Spotify. He has investments in biomedical companies and he funds longevity research. He also promotes a host of philanthropic, academic, and cultural institutions and companies, like the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Human Rights Foundation, and the Seasteading Institute, which proposes experimenting with floating communities in the open seas to test new forms of government. He also funds artificial intelligence, and works against violence through the Oslo Freedom Forum, among other initiatives.

In the year 2010, Peter Thiel created the 20 Under 20 Thiel Fellowship, with the aim to nurture the tech visionaries of the future. The original fellowship program gives 20 people under the age of 20 $100,000 to drop out of school and become world-changing visionaries. The only condition is that you commit full-time to your ideas and skip college. Last year more than 400 young people applied.

For Peter Thiel, going to college gets in the way of entrepreneurship. After all, some of the world’s most important inventions and technologies were created by independent minds working on their own. He also believes that there is a higher education bubble waiting to explode. The average college graduate ends up with at least $24,000 in student loan debt in the US, and one in ten has a hard time finding a job. A dysfunctional system. Of course this program does not solve the greater problem of the educational system, but at least it explores new possibilities, radically rethinking everything and allowing the participants to have a five-year head start, and without debts.

The first members of the 20 Under 20 Thiel Fellowship, announced in May this year, will pursue innovative scientific and technical projects, learn entrepreneurship, and begin to build the technology companies of tomorrow. During their two-year tenure, apart from the $100,000, each will receive mentorship from the Foundation’s network of tech entrepreneurs and innovators. The project areas for this class of fellows include biotech, career development, economics and finance, education, energy, information technology, mobility, robotics, and space.

Education systems throughout the world have rapidly become obsolete and necessarily have to evolve. Although solutions like this cannot be applied massively, it is through this kind of initiatives that countries can foster and harness creativity, entrepreneurship and competitiveness for bold young people with ideas.

(To read original article, published in Aug 2011, in PDF: Entrepreneurship or Higher Education But Not Both)

Trailer of a new CNBC two episode special on the 20 under 20 Thiel Fellowship