The Thiel Foundation ©2011 - All rights reserved /
Two Years. $100,000. Some Ideas Just Can’t Wait.
The Thiel Fellowship is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. The Fellowship brings together some of the world’s most creative and motivated young people, and helps them bring their most ambitious ideas and projects to life. Thiel Fellows are given a no-strings-attached grant of $100,000 to skip college and focus on their work, their research, and their self-education. They are mentored by our network of visionary thinkers, investors, scientists, and entrepreneurs, who provide guidance and business connections that can’t be replicated in any classroom. Rather than just studying, you’re doing.
The Thiel Fellowship is a community of visionaries creating a radical re-thinking of what it takes to succeed and improve the world, through self-directed learning, independent thought, and meaningful contributions.
Fellowship goals fall within three main areas:
Value creation: In two years, create value by forging a self-designed path opening up opportunities for yourself, others, and beneficiaries that were previously not available.
Bold Leadership: In two years, take meaningful risks and lead others to pursue your vision. In ten years, become an acknowledged authority within your field.
Meaningful community: In two years, build a fulfilling community to take with you post fellowship.
Note: The Thiel Fellowship is not limited to entrepreneurial activities.
Value creation can look like founding a nonprofit, startup, or general project that you have received enough funding or recognition for to have the option of continuing post-fellowship.
Example: Daniel Friedman, a 2011 fellow, founded Thinkful about 1.5 years into his fellowship. Since then, he’s built a team and raised venture financing to change the way people learn new work skills throughout their life.
Value creation can also look like creating opportunities for others such as jobs, internships, facilitating change in communities, benefiting others, and adding value where it didn't previously exist.
Examples: Eden Full, a 2011 fellow, invented the SunSaluter, a solar panel tracker that brings 40 percent more energy and clean water to villages in the developing world. During her fellowship she built multiple prototypes to optimize the design, built out a small team to work on the project, applied for other grants that also gained her international recognition, and deployed her product in multiple countries benefiting many communities.
Dale Stephens, a 2011 fellow, created UnCollege which promotes self-directed learning. During his fellowship he created an internationally recognized movement to urge teens to think deeply about their educational choices, wrote and published book, and started “Hackademic” camps to show young visionaries how to hack together their education.
Building a meaningful community: It’s a truth rarely acknowledged that building your own community is a lifelong adult challenge. It may be temporarily fixed by college, but it feels a bit like avoiding a greater issue because after you leave school the density a campus provides disappears. Fellows should leave the program with an enduring community because they met others in the fellowship ecosystem who share similar passions and values.
Example: Andrew Hsu, a 2011 fellow, met one of his cofounders at Peter Thiel’s Stanford startup class and another cofounder at the 2012 San Francisco Under 20 Summit. He has also made a lot of friends with other fellows and mentors. Fellows also organize socials, basketball and volleyball games, and other clubs regularly.
Bold Leadership is about taking meaningful risks and working with other people, building a team, and overall engaging others in your vision. Further down the line it looks like working towards becoming an industry leader, an expert in your field, and continuing to forge your own path.
Example: Laura Deming, a 2011 fellow, could have joined a lab working on anti-aging research, something she had a lot of experience with before starting the fellowship. Instead, she decided to start the Longevity Fund to finance early stage biotech companies to find cures for aging. She raised capital and even made an investment during her fellowship time. It took a lot of courage to do something this radical with her fellowship.
Most activities in the fellowship program express one or more of our values.
Self-directedness: You will largely set your own course and make your own decisions in the fellowship. We are here to help guide you, ask tough questions, and challenge your assumptions, but ultimately you must make your own decisions so that you can learn from those choices.
Being self-directed is a challenge. The fellowship truly offers you a very wide berth of choices of how you spend your time and energy. Maybe you were a good student who could play by the rules and do well when given a firm structure for what to do. The fellowship is the opposite of this: you will be designing your course and figuring out how you will be accountable to yourself. This time period will open up many questions for you that are typical of the “quarter life crisis” that many college graduates face after leaving the structured world of academia. Questions like, “Who am I? What is most important for me to spend my time on?” Though it’s labeled a “crisis,” it’s a crucial part of human development and we look forward to helping you to make this journey.
Community Building: Outside of our main program, we’re at heart a “do-ocracy” where if you want to see something happen, and we’re not already doing, feel free to lead it! Currently we have monthly socials that fellows organize and a book club that fellows and mentors host. If the words, “We should have X” pass your lips, then think about how you could be the one to head that up (or organize it so that you take turns).
Additionally by starting something in the fellowship you’ll learn about leadership, organizing people, planning, and what it takes to leave a legacy by passing the torch to the new group of fellows and having them run off with your ideas. Want a fellowship community brunch, learning cohorts, philosophy club, etc? Go for it! If you need help getting something off the ground, we’re always eager to help.
We hope that when you finish your fellowship that you have a meaningful community to take with you throughout the rest of your lives. A community of people around you that is built on shared passion and interest which will keep you bonded for life. Take these two years to get to know as many people in our community as you can.
Reflection: Reflection is the core of how we run the structure of our program. We’ll ask you to reflect often in the following ways:
Monthly update: There are a lot of you and a few of us. To keep us informed, fellows update us once a month through a survey form.
Fellowship Reviews: The Foundation meets with fellows every four months at a minimum to go over progress and new goals. Fellows are welcome to meet with us any time in between and you can meet with us privately any other time as well.
Closing Ceremonies: At this event fellows present to the entire fellowship community and their friends and family about their time as a fellow and reflect on their two years.
Collaboration: We realize that we’re stronger when we have each other to lean on and when we’re all contributing. Here’s how:
Mentors: These people are angels. They’re giving you advice and trying to prevent you from committing the same mistakes they made when they started out.
Under 20 Summits: We only have twenty spots for fellows, but we want to help as many exceptional young people as possible. This is what brought the vision of the Under 20 Summits to life. It’s a two day gathering of young entrepreneurs, engineers, scientists, and other visionaries. Many of fellows have met the The Thiel Foundation for the first time at these events and forged key relationships with others in the community; in addition, the Summits are a way for current fellows to help and get to know those who have not yet received a fellowship.
Fellowship Retreats: This is time to bond with other fellows, have fun, and work with each other over a long weekend.
We have a wonderful community of fellows, mentors, and staff. We all really enjoy being around each other and interacting frequently. Here are some of the structured events that we have each year.
Each fellow has a fellowship review with the fellowship council once a quarter to check in on their progress. These are scheduled once someone become a fellow. Of course, fellows can meet with the council at anytime in between review sessions.
Book clubs, socials, and workshops occur monthly to every six weeks. They are scheduled based on interest and availability of the fellows which is why they aren’t schedule very far in advance. Fellows also lead clubs and one off activities as well, like going to movies and just hanging out.
We have two retreats per year where we spend time with each other and build our bonds as a community. We also have two Under 20 Summits each year where we get to interact with the broader community of young visionaries from our applicant pool.
“Every tech story is different. Every moment in history happens only once. All successful companies are successful in their own unique way. It’s your task to figure out what that future history will be.” – Peter Thiel