Peter Thiel is best known for being an early angel investor in Facebook and the co-founder of PayPal, but he’s making headlines with a new venture: paying college-age teens to drop out and start their own businesses.
The Thiel Fellowship: 20 Under 20 on Wednesday announced it had selected 20 students under the age of 20 and handed them $100,000 to get their business ideas off the ground.
The Fellowship plays on some of Thiel’s unconventional beliefs about the current state of academics and post-graduate opportunities. He’s recently been talking a lot about the “education bubble,” with the cost of education being far too much for what you actually get out of it—a piece of paper and an extraordinary amount of debt.
At the very least, this will be an interesting sandbox experiment for the winners to see what they can do with their funds. One winner is 18-year-old John Burnham, who wants to develop methods to use space-industry technology in resource extraction. Another is Faheem Zaman, 18, who wants to work on a mobile-payment system for the developing world.
While I agree with some of Thiel’s ideas, especially the idea that college students are required to incur too much debt to get a chance in the “real world,” college dropout success stories are still a rarity. Not everyone in the batch of 20 Under 20 will succeed, and it could even hinder their long-term earning potential if they decide to pursue college again later.
Then there’s some of the more obvious benefits of earning a degree. First, college helps create well-rounded individuals who learn several subjects. Second, most big-name companies require a degree of some kind to work for them. Third, and maybe the most important, college is an incredible networking hub that connects and rewards people long after the debts are paid off.
What do you think? If you could go back, would you drop out so you could start your own business with a $100,000 backing? Do you think any of these young adults will be hindered later in life for trying their hand at entrepreneurship?