“Some ideas just can’t wait,” reads the website for the Thiel Fellowship.
In 2011, investor, entrepreneur, and Trump adviser Peter Thiel launched a program that awards $US100,000 to promising young entrepreneurs who are willing to drop out of college and turn their bright ideas into real businesses. Dozens of tech prodigies have passed through the program, with mixed results. While plenty of Thiel fellows return to school after their two-year deployment in Silicon Valley, a handful go on to create venture-backed startups worth millions.
We tracked down some of the most successful Thiel fellows to see what they’re up to.
The Thiel Fellowship brought together whiz-kids Ari Weinstein, an MIT dropout; and Conrad Kramer, a then-high school student, to work on two productivity apps. One took off.
Workflow stitches together tasks from multiple apps into one. Users can post an image to Facebook, get directions, order food, and do countless other things without leaving the app.
Workflow became the most purchased iPhone app for four days after it launched in 2014. In 2015, Apple awarded Weinstein and Kramer an award for the most innovation app of the year.
They continue to develop Workflow out of San Francisco. Their startup employs eight people.
At 19, Eden Full Goh left Princeton to turn her high school science project into a global company. That project, the SunSaluter, is a low-cost mechanism that allows solar panels to rotate and follow the sun throughout the day, boosting the panels' efficiency by 30%.
The SunSaluter can be found in 18 countries, providing electricity to over 10,000 people.
Today, Goh serves as chairperson of the nonprofit and works at Thiel's software company, Palantir, where she spearheads the development of experimental client-facing products.
He's been called 'Peter Thiel's chosen one' by Forbes magazine. The 25-year-old CEO of Hello, a startup that makes a $US149 sleep-tracking device for the bedroom, is one of the most successful Thiel fellows yet.
Proud passed on the chance to be the first in his family to go to college when he accepted a spot in the Thiel Fellowship. He joined to work on GigLocator, a website that aggregated concert-ticket information, and later sold it to a concert promoter in 2012 to the tune of six figures.
Hello's sleep-tracker, called Sense, raised $US2.4 million on Kickstarter in 2014, which is on par with what the Oculus Rift raised on the crowdfunding site. A source close to the company told Forbes that Hello expects to sell 250,000 units in 2017.
Proud is now raising more funding, including $US2 million from Thiel himself.
Ritesh Agarwal called the Thiel Fellowship 'the best thing that could have happened to me.'
The 22-year-old millionaire, who grew up in a southern state of India, launched a global hospitality startup that aggregates budget hotels across India. Users can find rooms, book a reservation, and enjoy in-room amenities such as branded linens from Oyo Rooms.
The startup operates rooms in over 6,500 hotels in more than 200 cities. Agarwal, who serves as the company's CEO, has raised $US187 million in funding at a $US400 million valuation.
Laura Deming has been unstoppable since age 14, when she enrolled at MIT to work on artificial organogenesis -- the making of tissues and organs -- and bone ageing. She dropped out after her sophomore year to further her research in anti-ageing as a Thiel fellow.
Deming is one of few fellows who pursued interests outside the startup world. She works alongside former pharma executives and fund managers as a partner at venture firm The Longevity Fund. The firm aims to find and fund companies working to extend human life.
Fox TV stations from New York to San Francisco cover the news with the help of Fresco News, an app that gathers photos and videos from everyday people who happen to be near a news event as it unfolds. The app has turned over 130,000 users into citizen journalists.
When a media outlet uses a content found on the app, its creator gets a payout along the lines of $US20 for photos and $US50 for videos, of which Fresco News takes a cut.
In 2015, Meyer -- who turned down an internship at Apple and walked away from NYU to become a Thiel fellow at age 19 -- raised $US1.2 million from executives at CNN and Yahoo.
Jeremy Cai left Babson College to work on a major pain point in the on-demand economy: hiring. When companies like Deliveroo, a British food delivery service, see demand go up, they need to grow quickly. OnboardIQ eases the process by automating parts of it, from organising applications, scheduling interviews, and facilitating background checks.
OnboardIQ has screened more than three million applicants in 40 countries. Its clients past and present have included Shyp, Grubhub, Groupon, Munchery, Cabify, and Eaze.
While it's not the Adobe-killer yet, Figma attracted attention in 2016 when it launched a software interface design tool that allows designers to work together on a project side-by-side. The web-based app shows the changes a designer makes in real-time, makes it easy to leave feedback, and saves versions of the project to the cloud, like Google Docs.
Figma has raised nearly $US18 million in funding from Greylock Partners, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, and White House US Chief Data Scientist DJ Patil. Field continues to work as CEO.
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