Fellowship Encourages Young Tech Entrepreneurs To Leave School, Pursue Startups
Jim Danielson just finished his sophomore year at Purdue University as an Electrical Engineering major. Within his two year stint at school, he served as president of the entrepreneurship club, co-founded a startup company and converted a Porsche 924S into a electric vehicle on the side. This week, Danielson was offered $100,000 to relocate to Silicon Valley and fully invest in his company, Makt Systems LLC. The offer, however would require Danielson to drop out of school, at least temporarily.
The Thiel Foundation, established by PayPal founder and early Facebook investor Peter Thiel, awarded its first annual round of “20 Under 20 Fellowships” on May 25. Twenty-four men and women, 20 years of age and younger, received $100,000 to pursue their entrepreneurial goals.
The students’ ideas focus primarily on scientific fields like biotech, information technology and green energy. Danielson, for example, plans to build and market a more efficient motor for electric vehicles. The Thiel Fellowship will allow him access to established mentors in his rapidly expanding industry.
“I feel if I had waited two years to finish my degree and start a business without funding, I would lose the opportunity to make an impact in the industry,” he said in the Lafayette, Ind. Journal-Courier. Thiel shares Danielson's concerns about losing valuable time to studies, which may not be strictly necessary.
"If the Facebook people had stayed in college for another two years, they may not have started Facebook," Thiel told CNN.
After all, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg left Harvard University to pursue his entrepreneurial brainchild, which today is valued at hundreds of billions of dollars. Thiel, who has a law degree of his own, insists that his fellowship does not require students to quit seeking higher education altogether--only to pause a traditional education for four semesters. The idea is to create a singular focus for students like Danielson.
“Starting a business is something that is a full-time thing,” he said to CNN. “It is like going for the Olympics or working on some intense project. It is not something you can do in parallel with school.”
By the time his class graduates in 2013, Danielson may be a successful Silicon Valley tech mogul. Or, he may find himself re-enrolling to finish his engineering degree--a risk shared by others in the fellowship who have taken a break from their studies. Thiel says, however, that students will learn far more in two years of gutsy enterprise than inside an undergraduate lecture hall.
“I’m looking forward to helping the fellows become the next generation of tech visionaries,” Thiel said in his official announcement. “We hope they will help young people everywhere realize that you don’t need credentials to launch a company that disrupts the status quo."