Thiel Foundation Announces 2016 Thiel Fellows

New Class of 29 Young People Pursuing Alternative to College Includes Technologists at the Forefront of Gaming, Artificial Intelligence, Health IT, and Software Development

SAN FRANCISCO--()--The Thiel Foundation today accepted 29 new members into the 2016 class of Thiel Fellows. The fellowship provides young people with $100,000 to learn by doing rather than by following conventional paths like college. This year’s cohort was selected from more than 6,000 applications received from around the world.

“We launched the fellowship in 2011 to test a simple thesis: college isn’t right for everyone—especially for young people who want to create new things,” said Blake Masters, President of the Thiel Foundation. “This has been proven true—by the successes of our past fellows, by the new applications we get every year, and by the growing numbers of young people who are creating their own career paths outside of college, with or without a fellowship from us.”

Thiel Fellows receive mentorship and guidance from current and former fellows, as well as from the Thiel Foundation’s network of technology entrepreneurs, investors, and scientists.

“In the past few years we’ve seen a dramatic change in the way young people approach their potential,” said Jack Abraham, Executive Director of the Thiel Fellowship. “Many are applying to the program with one or two companies already under their belts—they’ve become successful founders before they can even buy a beer. Our message may have seemed odd four or five years ago—some found it blasphemous to question how well American higher education was working, and to suggest entrepreneurship as an alternative path—but today even the colleges are waking up; top schools are creating their own incubators, crafting more flexible stop-out policies, and even raising venture capital funds. Young people now have more options than ever.”

To date, companies created by Thiel Fellows are together worth more than $1.4 billion.

Introducing the 2016 Thiel Fellows

Aditya Agarwalla (New Delhi, India)
Kisan Network
Agriculture Marketplace
Aditya is co-founder of Kisan Network, an online marketplace for the $200 billion Indian agricultural ecosystem. Kisan enables farmers to sell their produce directly to institutional buyers using a smartphone, rather than going through the physical marketplace dominated by middlemen.

Alex Rodrigues (Calgary, Alberta / Mountain View, CA)
Varden Labs
Autonomous Vehicles
Alex is CEO of Varden Labs, a startup developing self-driving shuttles for private campuses. Varden’s technology has been used to transport thousands of people, more than any other autonomous vehicle company in the US.

Anthony Zhang (Calgary, Alberta, Canada / Mountain View, CA)
Local Delivery
Anthony is CEO and co-founder of EnvoyNow, a last-mile food delivery service focusing on colleges and universities. Through a workforce of students who live on campus, EnvoyNow makes delivery direct-to-dorm room, direct-to-lecture hall, and direct-to-study nook faster and more accurate than mapping software-based delivery services can achieve.

Boyan Slat (Delft, The Netherlands)
The Ocean Cleanup
Environmental Technology
Boyan founded and runs The Ocean Cleanup, a non-profit organization that develops technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic. By leveraging the power of ocean currents to concentrate and extract plastic waste, The Ocean Cleanup is orders of magnitude more efficient than traditional approaches that rely on boats and nets.

Brian Truong (Boston, MA)
Enterprise Software
Brian is CEO and co-founder of HelloToken, a company that enables digital publishers to earn up to 10x more for their content by posing simple market research questions to readers instead of serving ads. In turn, HelloToken has created an engine for real-time contextual research across millions of people.

Christian Owens (London)
Christian is the founder and CEO of, which builds infrastructure for software companies to help companies deal with complex issues such as payments, taxes, localization, and analytics.

Cosmo Scharf (Los Angeles, CA)
The Virtual Reality Foundation and Visionary VR
Virtual Reality
Cosmo co-founded The Virtual Reality Foundation, a non-profit organization that produces the world’s largest event showcasing virtual reality technology, VRLA Expo, as well as The Proto Awards, the premier celebration for recognizing virtual reality content. He is also the co-founder of Visionary VR, a venture-backed startup building software for creating stories using virtual reality.

Eva Shang (Cambridge, MA)
Legal Analytics
Eva is co-founder of Legalist, a legal analytics and alert platform that helps lawyers keep track of new developments in case law so that they can represent their clients more effectively.

Grace Xiao & Raul Jordan (Cambridge, MA)
Communication Software
Grace and Raul are co-founders of Kynplex, a startup that provides communication tools for scientific laboratories. By connecting the fragmented world of scientific research, Kynplex aims to accelerate the pace of discovery.

Henry Hu (Hong Kong / San Francisco)
Cafe X
Food Technology, Automation
A native of Beijing, Henry Hu is CEO and co-founder of Cafe X, which designs, manufactures, and operates automated robotic cafés that serve locally roasted coffee in 10 seconds.

Hunter Rosenblume & Rohith Varanasi (Detroit, MI)
Lunar Labs
Hunter and Rohith co-founded Lunar Labs, a startup that sells smartphones with no monthly contracts and pay-as-you-go data on a per-app basis starting at just pennies per day. Lunar Labs aims to bring online the 64 million Americans—and then billions more worldwide—that don’t yet own a smartphone.

Ivonna Dumanyan (Kherson, Ukraine / Durham, NC)
Wearable Performance Technology; Artificial Intelligence
Ivonna is co-founder and CEO of BioMetrix, a wearable platform for injury prediction and prevention. BioMetrix is pushing the limits of connected technology and insight-driven intelligence with a simple, skin-adhered sensor. The system evaluates athlete movement to identify injury risk factors and inform smarter training.

James Sun (Toronto, Canada)
Social Gaming
James is co-founder and CEO of Revlo, a fan engagement platform for the game broadcaster Twitch. Revlo makes it easy for broadcasters to interact with all their fans and monetize them.

Jesse Leimgruber (San Francisco)
Marketing Technology
Jesse founded and runs NeoReach, a startup developing influencer marketing technology for Fortune 1000 brands and their agencies. NeoReach is currently used by industry giants such as Wal-Mart, Amazon, and NBC.

Joey Krug (Knoxville, IL)
Prediction Markets
Joey is building the world’s first decentralized prediction market platform. Augur is built on the Ethereum blockchain and allows users to forecast events and be rewarded for predicting them correctly.

Joey Levy (New York)
Sports Gaming
Joey founded Draftpot, a daily fantasy sports platform, from his dorm room in 2014. He is now working on Quizr, a sports betting application that launches in Europe in late 2016.

Lexi Smith (Boston)
Health IT
Lexi is co-founder of Carewell, an intelligent caregiving platform that helps caregivers take care of loved ones with dementia by using wearable devices to learn the smartest ways to provide personalized care.

Luke Sophios (San Diego)
Education Technology
Luke is founder and CEO of CourseKey, a software company that allows teachers to leverage the devices that their students are already bringing to class – laptops, tablets, and smartphones – to instantly create a more interactive, engaging “smart classroom”.

Matt Arbesfeld (Cambridge, MA)
Developer Tools
Matt co-founded AppHub, a company that builds tools that let app developers deploy and update software applications easily and instantly. AppHub’s mission is to empower engineers by eliminating tedious and redundant, time-consuming work.

Matthew Salsamendi & James Boehm (Seattle, WA)
Social Gaming
Matt and James co-founded Beam, an interactive live-streaming platform for gamers. Beam lets viewers of live-streamed video game sessions get involved in the game, influencing gameplay in real time.

Megan Grassell (Jackson Hole, WY)
Megan founded Yellowberry in high school when she realized that tween girls like her younger sister lacked age-appropriate options when buying their first bras. Three years later, Yellowberry has pioneered a new approach to this market, and has expanded beyond bras to underwear, loungewear, and activewear.

Nick Mares (San Francisco)
Kettle & Fire
Nick co-founded Kettle & Fire with his brother to bring to market the world’s first shelf-stable bone broth made from grass-fed, pasture-raised cattle. Their wholesome, slow-simmered bone broth is available at select Whole Foods, Sprouts Farmers Market locations, and several online retailers.

Pamela Valdes Esteva (Mexico City, Mexico)
Social Networking
Pamela is co-founder and CEO of Beek, a social network for millennial book lovers. Beek casts aside sterile 5-star rating systems and lets users discuss and react to books while they are actually reading them.

Panashe Mahachi (Kitchener, Ontario, Canada / Mountain View, CA)
Lace Labs
Government Technology
Panashe is co-founder of Lace, a marketplace for cities and other municipalities to find and purchase cutting-edge software. Local governments are increasingly interested in innovation; the Lace platform helps municipal staff to build smarter cities.

Samuel F. Poirier (Montreal)
Virtual Reality; Gaming
Samuel is co-founder and CEO of Retinad, the preeminent analytics platform for virtual reality apps. Retinad helps developers create better VR content with tools such as heat maps and user emotional tracking so that consumers can enjoy a more immersive, personalized virtual reality experience.

Sohail Prasad (Plano, TX / San Francisco)
Financial Technology
Sohail is the founder and co-CEO of Equidate, a secondary marketplace for shares in private companies. To date, Equidate has helped thousands of employees at private companies sell portions of their stock to accredited investors in the absence of an IPO or corporate sale.


The Thiel Foundation supports science, technology, and long-term thinking about the future. For more information, see


Media Contact for the Thiel Fellowship:
Torch Communications
Ross Gillfillan, 415-599-4403


Media Contact for the Thiel Fellowship:
Torch Communications
Ross Gillfillan, 415-599-4403