Awards challenge higher education
Fellows get $100G to stay out of school
By Donna Goodison
May 29, 2011
A billionaire venture capitalist, on a crusade about the value of the expensive college educations that draw thousands of students to the Hub each year, is raising concerns with a new fellowship program that requires students to ditch school for two years.
PayPal co-founder, Facebook investor and hedge fund manager Peter Thiel has offered $100,000 cash to 24 of the best and brightest entrepreneurial young people in the United States with a big stipulation — they must stay out of college for two years to further their scientific and technical ideas. In return, they’ll be able to tap Thiel’s California network of tech entrepreneurs and philanthropists for mentoring, job opportunities, support and training.
When Thiel first announced the 20 Under 20 Thiel fellowship program in September, he noted some of the world’s “most transformative technologies” — from Facebook to SpaceX to Halcyon Molecular — were created by people who’ve “stopped out of school because they had ideas that couldn’t wait until graduation.”
His offer garnered more than 400 applicants. Local students Sujay Tyle and Nick Cammarata were among the 24 inaugural fellowship winners and are planning their moves to California.
One of Harvard’s youngest students at 17, Tyle just finished his second year and has been doing business development for Cambridge start-up InsightSquared.
Tyle started working in a University of Rochester biochemistry lab at age 11 and, over the next six years, developed a cheaper way to make bio-ethanol.
Boston venture capitalist Michael Greeley, general partner at Flybridge Capital Partners, values the education he received while earning an undergraduate degree from Williams College and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
“I don’t really appreciate why he’s making it either/or — you can’t go to college if you want to get this $100,000 grant,” Greeley said. “But the truth is, you don’t need to go to a great university to be a great entrepreneur. The best experience is being street-smart and out there doing it.”