FAQ

Quick Links: CandidatesFellowship DesignExpectationsLocation and HousingOther

Candidates:

What do you look for in a candidate?

Candidates must be 19 years old or younger as of December 31st of the application year. The ideal candidate has ideas that simply cannot wait. She or he wants to change the world and has already started to do it in some fashion. We want fellows who dream big and have clear plans, who take risks and learn from mistakes, who think long-term and like to tinker. Inspire us.

May foreign candidates apply?

Yes. We encourage candidates from around the world to apply. Foreign candidates are responsible for obtaining their own visa into the United States. If you receive a fellowship you must be up for navigating this challenge.

Does the Thiel Foundation receive equity in fellows' projects?

No—neither the Thiel Foundation nor any of its affiliates receive any equity in return for the fellowship grants.

Once I apply, what is the process for the application review?

Thiel Fellowship applications take about a month per round to assess. The whole process is about four months. There are four rounds to the Thiel Application:

  • General Review - All applications are reviewed for content and completeness.
  • Mentor Review - Applications are reviewed by multiple people from the Thiel Fellowship Network.
  • Semi-finalist Phone Interview - Applicants are interviewed by a Thiel Fellowship mentor.
  • Finalist Weekend - Approximately 40 people are flown to San Francisco to interview with the Foundation and pitch their idea to the Thiel Fellowship Network of mentors and advisors.

Fellowship Design:

What does time spent as a Thiel Fellow look like?

The Thiel Foundation helps fellows to design their own paths; each fellowship will be a unique experience. We expect that each fellow will grow and develop over two years, and so the nature of the work may change substantially as the fellows’ goals shift and mature.

  • The Foundation will match fellows with mentors.
  • Fellows who have already started a business will be encouraged to work on that directly and the Foundation will help teach them about business development, fundraising, pitching, and hiring.
  • If a fellow isn’t sure about first steps, the Foundation may suggest a brief internship with a Bay Area company to meet people and see how businesses operate.
  • Other activities may include cohort and Thiel Foundation meetings, conferences, presentations, and other networking and professional events. Most activities occur in Silicon Valley and San Francisco.

Why do you encourage fellows to move to the Bay Area? Can they work from home?

We encourage fellows to move to the San Francisco Bay Area for the opportunities and resources that the area provides, such as mentors in our network, other like-minded entrepreneurs, and many learning and cultural opportunities. However, fellows are welcome to work on their projects from any location.

Why do you ask that fellows not attend college for two years? Does this mean that they can’t attend any classes?

We ask fellows to take two years away from college so that they can fully focus on their projects without the time and expense of college. Fellows may take or audit classes that are specific to their project areas, though all class participation through a university or college must be approved by the Thiel Foundation.

How does mentoring work?

Fellows are paired with mentors who have business, vision, or industry expertise, subject to both fellow and mentor approval. Fellows schedule meetings once a month to go over action items from the last month and set new goals and discuss challenges. We believe that mentoring is a very important part to becoming a successful leader. We encourage all people, whether fellows or not, to seek out mentors.

How is the grant money awarded?

Grant awards are distributed in monthly installments beginning on the fellow's start date. Compelling spending plans that require a greater percentage of the grant during initial stages will be considered.

What outcomes does the Foundation look for in fellows?

We expect fellows to think about how they want their work to shape the world ten years from now, not just three months from now. Over the two years of their fellowship, we expect them to immerse themselves fully in their projects, while keeping in mind their longer-term goals, and to develop the following skills both on their own and through the fellowship.

      • Being Mission Driven Leaders – Understanding not just what they’re doing but why they’re doing it and who is served in the process.
      • Thinking Big – Taking risks in the name of progress and innovation.
      • Learning to Learn – Acting in a resourceful manner and knowing how to tap into networks, organizations, and other resources for support.
      • Problem Solving – Knowing what questions to ask and how to plan to solve them.
      • Service Oriented – Looking to have a huge effect on the lives of others through their science and tech projects.

Expectations:

What is expected of the Thiel Fellows during the fellowship?

We are looking to the fellows to bring breakthroughs to the world, and so we have very high expectations. Fellows must:

  • Develop a plan:
    • What do they want to accomplish over the next ten years, two years, six months, week?
    • What do they need to learn or do to advance their agendas?
    • What kind of a team will they need to build?
  • Meet with mentors regularly:
    • Schedule a monthly meeting with mentors.
    • Keep a written agenda, meeting minutes, and action items.
    • Complete action items each month and promptly discuss any challenges with mentors.
  • Potentially intern or work:
    • Be professional (arrive on time, dress appropriately, be respectful, etc.)
    • Contribute through meaningful activities and projects.
  • Update the Thiel Foundation as requested:
    • Meet with the Foundation quarterly to go over goals, accomplishments, and what kind of support might be needed.
    • Contact the Foundation at any time with specific needs or requests so that we can facilitate growth throughout the program.
    • Attend a majority of Fellowship retreats and socials.
  • Focus most of their time pursuing science and tech innovation through the fellowship, but:
    • Have fun. Sometimes those moments of relaxation and fun are when we have some of the biggest ah-ha! moments. Take the time to get to know the other Thiel Fellows and enjoy the new paths being forged.
    • Make mistakes. The Foundation and mentors will help the fellows work through any challenges.

Do I need to start a business by the end of two years?

The fellowship is chance to explore many different paths as fellows determine how to realize their long-term visions for changing the world. Entrepreneurship may be the right focus for many fellows, but it may take some fellows several years to solidify their project focus, flesh out their research, develop prototypes, or build teams. Fellows can also spend time in internships or work opportunities, with Foundation approval, to get experience and learn how startups work. Ultimately, we want to ensure that each fellow is working on something that will meaningfully advance science and technology, and change the world for the better over the next decade.

When do the fellows start?

Start dates can vary based on the fellows’ individual situations and commitments. We expect that fellows will select a start date that falls between June and September, inclusive. All grant recipients are considered Thiel Fellows, even if they have not yet started their fellowships.

Can fellows change their idea or work on something else?

Of course. If an idea isn’t working, or something more compelling arises, it may make sense to change a project. Should a fellow decide to pursue other ideas, the Foundation will discuss this with him or her and help make a decision.

Do the fellows have to leave work? What if they are offered employment in the Bay Area? What if they are offered an internship outside 20 Under 20?

All fellows must forgo all other employment or educational enrollment during the two year fellowship, except as approved by the Thiel Foundation. In some cases, an internship may help a fellow learn about an industry before working on a project, and the Foundation will be happy to discuss this.

Can the Thiel Fellows form teams to collaborate?

Absolutely. A core component of the fellowship program is the opportunity to build valuable, lifelong connections.

What happens if a fellow wants to return to school?

If a fellow decides to leave the Thiel Fellowship and return to school during the two-year fellowship, he or she will forfeit the remainder of his or her fellowship. After their fellowships end, fellows can go to school if they choose.

Location and Housing:

Will the Thiel Fellows all relocate to the Bay Area?

The Thiel Foundation strongly encourages, though does not require, all Thiel Fellows to move to the Bay Area for the cohort collaboration, mentoring, networking, conferences, and other opportunities that arise on a regular basis. We believe that moving to the Bay Area is the best way to maximize the benefits of one’s fellowship.

Will the Thiel Foundation offer housing?

All fellows are responsible for their own housing and living expenses, though mentors will have a great deal of knowledge about how to live and work in the Bay Area.

Does the $100k grant only cover project expenses? Are parents expected to finance housing and living expenses for fellows?

Grant awards are distributed in monthly installments beginning on the fellow's start date. Compelling spending plans that require a greater percentage of the grant during initial stages will be considered. The grants can be used for anything, including living or business expenses. Parents are welcome to support their children; however, it is not expected. In fact, we believe that as a life accelerator it is best for fellows to learn about boot-strapping on a limited budget.

Other:

I have a great idea. How do I get it to Peter Thiel?

If you are under 20, we encourage you to apply to the Thiel Fellowship. The Fellowship does not review applications from people who are 20 or older.

I’m 20 or over. What other programs does the Foundation offer?

We also fund revolutionary early-stage science and technology research through Breakout Labs.

What other programs would you recommend that I apply to?

  • Breakout Labs: Through Breakout Labs, we’re reshaping the way early-stage science is funded, so that early-stage companies can advance their most radical ideas.
  • Enstitute: Enstitute is a non-profit, appreticeship-based, educational experience that turns startups and small businesses into classrooms.
  • Mass Challenge: We connect entrepreneurs with the resources they need to launch and succeed immediately.
  • Singularity University: Our mission is to assemble, educate and inspire a new generation of leaders who strive to understand and utilize exponentially advancing technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges.
  • Unreasonable Institute: Giving high-impact entrepreneurs wings.
  • YCombinator: Y Combinator does seed funding for startups.
  • Echoing Green: The Echoing Green Fellowship program has provided more than $2 million in seed funding to a diverse group of the world’s most promising social entrepreneurs.
  • TechStars: TechStars provides seed funding from over 75 top venture capital firms and angel investors who are vested in the success of your startup, as well as intense mentorship from hundreds of the best entrepreneurs in the world.
  • Venture For America: Modeled after Teach for America, Venture for America will provide a path for entrepreneurship to college grads who want to learn how to build companies and create jobs.
  • UnCollege Gap Year: Gap year is a one-year program designed to help young people learn how to learn.

Quotes

It’s better to be a pirate than to join the Navy. — Steve Jobs

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