Peter Thiel Announces Inaugural Class of 20 Under 20 Thiel Fellows

SAN FRANCISCO--()--Peter Thiel today announced the appointment of twenty-four Thiel Fellows.

“The Fellows are a tremendous group of young people who are going to advance the frontiers of knowledge, shake up staid industries, and change the world,” said Thiel. “Tomorrow will not take care of itself. In order to solve vexing problems and increase the quality of life for people everywhere, the world’s economy needs continuous scientific and technical innovation from outstanding creative minds. I’m looking forward to helping the Fellows become the next generation of tech visionaries.”

As the first members of the 20 Under 20 Thiel Fellowship, the Fellows will pursue innovative scientific and technical projects, learn entrepreneurship, and begin to build the technology companies of tomorrow. During their two-year tenure, each Fellow will receive $100,000 from the Thiel Foundation as well as 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.

“The Fellows’ creativity, intelligence, and leadership were captivating,” said James O’Neill, the head of the Thiel Foundation. “They’re challenging the authority of the present and the familiar. We had planned to award twenty fellowships, but the number of outstanding candidates far exceeded our expectations. It was challenging to select only twenty-four, and impossible to pick only twenty. We’re excited to be working with them, and we hope they will help young people everywhere realize that you don’t need credentials to launch a company that disrupts the status quo.”

More than four hundred people younger than twenty applied to be Fellows. Applications arrived from nearly two dozen countries, and from nearly two hundred high schools, junior colleges, community colleges, four-year colleges, and graduate schools. Many applicants never went to college, had already stopped out of school, were already working, or had already launched their own company. Many had a long personal history of entrepreneurship. They applied at a time of increasing debate about the cost and value of college and student debt.

Information about applications for the next round of fellows will be available at 20under20.org in late October.

ABOUT THE THIEL FELLOWS

BIOTECH

Laura Deming wants to extend the human lifespan for a few more centuries—at the very least. She started working in a biogerontology lab when she was 12, matriculated at MIT when she was 14, and now at 17 plans on disrupting the current research paradigm by changing the incentives embedded in today’s traditional funding structures. Too often, researchers design quick incremental projects to please grant-making bodies instead of taking on risky, long time horizon problems. With her fund IP Immortal, Laura plans on commercializing anti-aging research, bringing therapies out of the lab and into the market sooner.

Alexander Kiselev is a 19-year-old immigrant from Moscow who is worried that scientific advances in the biosciences aren’t developing fast enough. To spark a new age of discovery, he wants to make experimentation cheaper by creating affordable scientific instruments. With help from the open source hardware community, his first project will be an inexpensive high performance liquid chromatography system, a tool that helps biochemists analyze the components of a sample.

Darren Zhu has conducted research in a wide range of cutting-edge areas, from molecular spintronics fabrication to therapeutic drug design. He is most excited about synthetic biology, a burgeoning field that engineers solutions to biological problems by using standardized genomic components. After he stops out of Yale, his first project will be to build a diagnostic biosensor, the initial step toward his goal of making synthetic biology easier to engineer.

CAREER DEVELOPMENT

Daniel FriedmanPaul Gu, and Eric McKay are passionate about equipping people with the information to make better decisions. In some markets, high noise-to-signal ratios make it hard for the best to distinguish themselves from the lemons. With a wealth of talent in mathematics, programming, and social entrepreneurship, this trio plans to create a more efficient recruiting process driven by a peer-based evaluation system.

Dale Stephens flaunts non-conformity in most aspects of his life. At 19, he leads UnCollege, a social movement that applies the methods of unschooling—the self-directed brand of homeschooling with which he was raised—to the realm of higher education. Now he is building a platform called RadMatter to revolutionize how we develop and demonstrate talent in the twenty-first century.

ECONOMICS & FINANCE

Jeffrey Lim wants to increase the amount of voluntary exchange and cooperation in the world by revamping some of our core economic and social institutions. He believes it’s time the means of exchange caught up with the Information Age. Once he stops out of MIT, Jeffrey plans on using his fellowship to create technologies that will help people self-organize to solve social problems. He’s particularly interested in helping people protect the wealth they create from the harmful effects of inflation.

Faheem Zaman has shot the moon on nearly every SAT test he’s ever taken: 5580 points across 5 tests. He wants to decentralize banking in the developing world with a mobile payment system. Because savings are difficult in poor countries—including in some regions of South Asia where many have to hoard and protect cash—Faheem believes mobile financial services will help bring prosperity to these areas. Before he introduces his technology to the developing world, Faheem’s initial plan is to gain a foothold in the U.S. market for mobile financial services.

EDUCATION

Nick Cammarata and David Merfield are working on OPEN, a project that aims to flip the industrial-scale classroom experience. OPEN is a tool used by teachers to create and share online lessons designed to be viewed at home by their own students, leaving class time free for more engaging activities. With a decade of programming experience, Nick has worked for Microsoft, Stanford, and Mozilla and is an active contributor to several open-source projects. David has designed web interfaces used by millions of people around the world. He has lived and been educated in England, Singapore, France, and the USA.

Andrew Hsu started doing research in a pathology lab when he was 10. By the time he was 12, he had matriculated at the University of Washington. Soon after, he graduated with honors degrees in neurobiology, biochemistry, and chemistry. He was a 19-year-old 4th-year neuroscience Ph.D. candidate at Stanford University when he left early this year to pursue his start-up, Airy Labs.

John Marbach has years of experience working as an Internet marketer in customer development—he founded a vacation rental portal as a high school freshman—and he blogs frequently about emerging technologies. Now, with his start-up Ingenic, he wants to leverage web-based videos and mobile apps to bring the classroom into the twenty-first century.

ENERGY

Tom Currier developed a deep obsession for entrepreneurship, cost reductions, and renewable energy after starting his first business when nine years old. To achieve grid parity, Currier believes that the solar industry needs a fundamental balance of systems breakthrough. He co-founded Black Swan Solar two years ago to commercialize an invention that enables dual-axis photovoltaic module tracking.

Jim Danielson is working on building a more powerful and efficient motor for electric vehicles. He has already electrified a Porsche 924S, including power electronics of his own design. He is currently co-launching Makt Systems LLC, a start-up to commercialize his research and design. Before becoming a Fellow, Jim co-founded the Electric Vehicle Club at Purdue and was president of Purdue Innovations, the university’s entrepreneurship club.

Eden Full is the 19-year-old Canadian founder of Roseicollis Technologies, a solar energy start-up that deploys her patent-pending inventions in established and emerging markets. Currently electrifying two villages of 1000 citizens in Kenya, Eden’s SunSaluter is a solar panel rotating system that tracks the sun to optimize energy collection by up to 40 percent for only $10. She began developing her social enterprise when she was 15.

Sujay Tyle is one of the youngest students at Harvard and is passionate about hacking cellulose to create cheap biofuels. He first worked in a lab when he was 11, interned at Dupont as a teenager, and won the grand prize at the 2009 International Sustainable World Energy Olympiad in Houston. With his older brother, Sheel, he also runs ReSight, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to helping the vision-impaired around the world.

INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY

James Proud taught himself programming at the age of 9. In his teens, he built products for companies such as Coca-Cola and Universal Music, while juggling his studies during the day. Upon graduating from the British equivalent of high school, James decided not to enroll in university and instead founded GigLocater.com, a start-up that aims to help music lovers discover more live shows.

Christopher Rueth thinks access to the entire Internet is a basic human right. When he was in high school, administrators put in place draconian Internet restrictions and also started logging all student emails. Upset by the school’s intrusion, Chris created a website that allowed students in his district to bypass this snooping. Now Chris wants to help emancipate information around the world.

Ben Yu had just returned from climbing Mount Kilimanjaro when he interviewed with the Thiel Foundation. He was about to climb another mountain in China when he learned he had won. His next challenge is to build an e-commerce start-up that will revolutionize price comparison on the web. Before climbing Kilimanjaro and taking on the current leaders in comparison shopping, Ben was a freshman at Harvard.

Sebastien Zany is pursuing a program to unify computation in a cohesive and elegant framework based around Haskell, with the goal of finally realizing the potential of computers and the Internet to enable people to work with information fluidly and creatively, especially on mobile devices.

MOBILITY

Gary Kurek has been developing mobility aids for physically-disabled citizens for the last four years. Seeing his grandmother weakened by cancer led Gary to invent a walker-wheelchair hybrid that can provide power to assist its user according to how strong she feels at any moment. This flexibility allows users to restore their strength, instead of growing dependent on a substitute. Gary is currently working on expanding the versatility of his mobility aids, making them lighter, foldable, and capable of navigating any home environment including staircases. Gary hails from Alberta, Canada, and is the 19-year-old founder of GET Mobility Solutions.

ROBOTICS

David (Jiageng) Luan plans to do for consumer robotics what the IBM PC did for computing. He came to America when he was 6 years old, began taking college courses at Worcester State in Massachusetts in 3rd grade, and received a certificate in computer science by the time he was 12. As student at Andover and Yale, he has been involved in robotics research for five years and now wants to create home robots that can handle an extensible array of low- to mid-level cognitive tasks in addition to physical jobs.

SPACE

John Burnham believes that the search for new resources has driven exploration, expansion, and innovation—from the discovery of the Americas to the California Gold Rush. Likewise, he believes the key to colonizing space is to make it possible to extract valuable minerals from asteroids, comets, and other planetary bodies. John plans on using his fellowship to develop space industry technologies to solve the problem of extraterrestrial resource extraction.

ABOUT THE THIEL FOUNDATION

The Thiel Foundation defends and promotes freedom in all its dimensions: political, personal, and economic. The Thiel Foundation supports innovative scientific research and new technologies that empower people to improve their lives, champions organizations and individuals who expose human rights abuses and authoritarianism in all its guises, and encourages the exploration of new ideas and new spaces where people can be less reliant on government and where freedom can flourish. For more information, see ThielFoundation.org or 20under20.org.

ABOUT PETER THIEL

Peter Thiel \ˈtēl\ is a technology entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist.

He first gained attention for innovations in banking and startup finance. Today he is known as the mentor of the PayPal mafia of entrepreneurs, as well as for his warnings of a coming technology deficit with severe economic consequences. He works to accelerate innovation to prevent such a crisis by identifying and funding promising technology ideas and by guiding successful companies to scale and dominate their industries.

In 1998, Thiel made e-commerce easier, faster, and more secure by co-founding and leading PayPal, which now has 98 million active financial accounts. In 2002, he sold PayPal to eBay and founded a global macro fund, Clarium.

In 2004, he co-founded Palantir Technologies, which offers platforms for finance companies and intelligence, defense, and law enforcement communities to integrate, visualize, and analyze the world’s information.

In the same year, Thiel made the first outside investment in Facebook, the social networking hub that now has more than half a billion active members. He serves on its board.

Building on his personal success as a venture capital investor, Thiel co-founded and manages the Founders Fund, a leading Silicon Valley venture capital fund that has pioneered new methods of venture financing that benefit founders. Through Founders Fund as well as through his private investing, he has helped launch the next great generation of tech companies, such as SpaceX, LinkedIn, Quantcast, RoboteX, Causes, and Spotify.

Thiel promotes better health through investments in Halcyon Molecular, Practice Fusion, Navia Systems, Collaborative Drug Discovery, and Pathway Genomics, and by funding the longevity research of Drs. Cynthia Kenyon and Aubrey de Grey.

He advances freedom by sponsoring the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Seasteading Institute, and the Human Rights Foundation. He funds the artificial intelligence research of the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence. He also aids work against violence through the Oslo Freedom Forum and through the research of philosopher René Girard, which is extended and promulgated by Imitatio.

Thiel earned a B.A. in philosophy from Stanford University and a J.D. from Stanford Law School, where he occasionally teaches courses on globalization and sovereignty and serves on the board of overseers of the Hoover Institution. His articles have appeared in Policy ReviewFirst Things, and the Wall Street Journal. He co-produced the film Thank You for Smoking, was rated a master by the United States Chess Federation, and received the Innovation Award from the Economist.

Thiel established and funds the Thiel Foundation, including the Thiel Fellowship. He lives in San Francisco.

Contacts

For Thiel Foundation
Ross Gillfillan, +1-415-599-4403
ross@torchcomllc.com
Jonathan Cain, +1-415-248-4679
jcain@thielfoundation.org

Release Summary

Peter Thiel today announced the appointment of twenty-four Thiel Fellows.

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Contacts

For Thiel Foundation
Ross Gillfillan, +1-415-599-4403
ross@torchcomllc.com
Jonathan Cain, +1-415-248-4679
jcain@thielfoundation.org