SMALL BUSINESS

Peter Thiel '20 Under 20' Applications Open: Where In The World Is The Next Zuckerberg?

10/16/2012 11:28 am ET | Updated Oct 16, 2012

Once again, the hunt is on for the next great college dropout.

Peter Thiel, Facebook’s first big investor and the co-founder of PayPal, announced Monday that his nonprofit foundation has started to accept applications for next year’s class of “20 under 20” Thiel Fellows.

For the third year in a row, the Silicon Valley billionaire is giving at least 20 young adults $100,000 each to drop out of school. The two-year fellowship aims to give “freedom, support and time” to a select group of teenage whiz-kids who, Thiel believes, don’t need a college degree to create world-changing technologies.

“Our world is suffering from a tech innovation drought,” Thiel said in a statement released yesterday. “We think young people are capable of tackling hard problems and building big things, and we hope to enable more of them to work on cool projects for two years.”

A survey released in July found that startup founders under the age of 30 are more optimistic about their companies than their older counterparts. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who dropped out of Harvard University in his sophomore year to build the social networking site, is the latest to glamorize the image of upstarts who forgo formal educations and entry-level positions to start their own ventures. (Microsoft founder Bill Gates, too, famously ditched Harvard.) Though a study released in 2009 showed that the average founder of a successful startup launched his firm at the age of 40.

There are now 43 Thiel fellows, including 39 men and 4 women. Some have seen more success than others, HuffPost reported in August, when the program announced its newest class in a CNBC special. James Proud, one fellow, reportedly sold his online ticketing business for a six-figure sum. Eden Full, another fellow, won a $260,000 social entrepreneurship award earlier this year to improve solar energy in developing nations. Meanwhile, other participants have bounced around from project to project with few notable achievements.

The 2012 class attracted 1,000 applicants from 20 different countries, Thiel’s foundation has said. Applications for a Thiel Fellowship in 2013 will close at midnight (UTC) on December 31, 2012. Teams of up to four may apply. Each individual must have been born after December 31, 1992.

Fellowship recipients will be announced sometime in the spring next year.

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