Many of today’s success stories, especially in the tech entrepreneurial realm, didn’t require a college degree to come to fruition. PayPal founder, Silicon Valley heavyweight, and venture capitalist (he was the first to invest in Facebook) Peter Thiel has launched the “20 Under 20” program, which supports young entrepreneurs who choose to skip the traditional college route and straight into their dreams.
Thiel heads the hedge fund Clarium Capital and is a managing partner in The Founder Fund. At 43, he has both undergraduate and law degrees from Stanford University, but knows that credentials, especially in this day and age, are not necessarily a requirement for success.
“There are a lot of talented people for whom it makes sense to do something not entirely tracked,” said Thiel. “We wanted to encourage talented young people to explore some alternatives,” noting that the existing “credentialing process” may not be for everyone.
The program offers each member $100,000 in funding and allows the fellows to be mentored and have access to over a hundred influential entrepreneurs. This bank of mentors assists from the very beginning with business plans, networks, and other means of launching the fellows’ ideas.
Of course, Thiel has seen his share of criticism for the somewhat controversial program – with which he disagrees. He emphasized that the fellows, who were hand-picked from over 400 applicants, showed brilliance and unwavering determination.
Among the youngest fellows to participate is 17-year-old Christopher Rueth, who was frustrated with his high school’s restriction on students’ Internet use and is now looking to make the Internet more accessible to people throughout the world.
“In San Francisco I’m hoping to be hooked up with product development experts, product designers,” he said. “A thing like the fellowship is good for the people who are ready for it.”
Steven Blank, a professor at Stanford and UC Berkeley as well as a former Silicon Valley entrepreneur, is also for the program. “To generalize that [20 Under 20] is great or bad is missing the argument,” said Blank. “After seeing how people learn, you can’t generalize what is great for one group is great for another.”
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