Many entrepreneurs go through the traditional route of attending university before they found companies and learn to scale—but one initiative strays away from that typical model.
The Thiel Fellowship gives $100,000 USD—spread over two years—to young people who want to create things instead of sitting in classrooms, and 2018’s recipients include three Canadians among the overall 20 selected.
The idea for the fellowship is to offer entrepreneurs an unconventional way to grow and scale a startup. Other recipients largely hail from the U.S. with a few from other countries such as the U.K., Sweden, and India.
Shak Lakhani from Richmond Hill was recognized for his biotech startup Avro Life Science that develops skin patches to help deliver generic drugs. The method allows for medicines to work faster and have a longer-lasting effect.
Kimberlie Le, with roots in both Edmonton and San Francisco, started the foodtech company Terramino Foods. It uses fungi-based proteins to replicate the taste and texture of seafood and meat, creating a sustainable model for food in the future.
André Bertram hails from Toronto and started HelpWear, a medtech company that creates clinical-grade ECG monitor that can be worn at home 24/7 to track the electrical activity in the heart.
Each of these three recipients will receive $100,000 as well as mentorship from the Thiel Foundation’s network of tech founders, investors and researchers.
“College isn’t for everyone, and it certainly isn’t for everyone fresh out of high school,” said Allyson Dias, director of the Thiel Fellowship. “Leaving behind the safety of the classroom and choosing to build a business instead isn’t easy or glamorous. But our Fellows have found what we suspect to be true more broadly: young people learn best by doing things in the real world.”
Fellows must be under 22 when they apply for the fellowship and do not even have to have a fully-formed company—they can have a nonprofit, piece of hardware, a media platform, or even an idea. One of the controversial terms of the fellowship is that those who are given the grant must drop out of their school program if they are enrolled in one.
To date, the companies created by Thiel Fellows are worth more than $3 billion combined—and that doesn’t even include other Fellow and Canadian Vitalik Buterin who created the ethereum network, which currently has a market cap of over $46 billion. Other Canadians to win the fellowship include Harry Gandhi and Liam Horne.
The founder of the Thiel Fellowship is, of course, Peter Thiel, the tech mogul who founded PayPal and was an early investor in companies like Facebook and LinkedIn.