Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Just Dropout: Peter Thiel Gives $100,000 To Entrepreneurs Under 20

"Midway through his freshman year at Harvard University, Ben Yu felt like Harvard's core curriculum kept getting in the way of his other interests. So he dropped out.

Starting in January, Yu, 19, began doing the things he never had time for when he was enrolled in college -- he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and went caving in Kentucky. He also applied to become a Thiel Fellow.
Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook, created the Thiel Foundation. Last fall, it announced a new fellowship program: It would give 20 people under the age of 20 $100,000 to drop out of school and become world-changing visionaries.

More than 400 young people applied. Earlier today, the 24 winners were announced. "The established path is always to stay and finish school," said Yu, who was among the 24 chosen winners. He wants to build a price-comparison service for online consumers to locate the cheapest products in the shortest amount of time. "For me, there was no reason to wait until I graduated to follow my dreams."

The only condition of Thiel's two-year fellowship is that all fellows commit full-time to making their ideas work. Simultaneously being enrolled in college is forbidden.

"These fellows are going to bring significant new ideas to a wide range of technical and scientific fields in ways that will change the industries and improve people's quality of life," said Jim O'Neill, who runs the Thiel Foundation. "Every field benefits from smart, driven new players."

The Thiel Fellowship gets at the heart of Thiel's basic complaint about higher education -- namely, that going to college gets in the way of entrepreneurship. He also believes that a higher education bubble threatens to dismantle the entire enterprise.

Thiel is correct about the rising cost of college, not to mention an increased amount of student debt. According to the Institute for College Access and Success, a nonprofit based in Oakland, Calif., the average college graduate now leaves school with an average of $24,000 in student loan debt. Meanwhile, one in 10 has difficulty securing a job.

But entering a weak economy without a college degree is a far riskier bet. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 20 percent of 20- to 24-year-olds with only a high school diploma are jobless.
Thiel's critics lament that his fellowship is merely another way for elites to get ahead, while college becomes increasingly inaccessible to the general public." - read more -via HuffingtonPost

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