What would you do if someone handed you a check for $100,000 dollars? But here’s the catch: Drop out of college, start a business and get ready to solve some of the world’s biggest problems. Are you up for the challenge? Twenty-four of the world’s brightest minds thought so.
The Thiel Foundation recently launched a new initiative called Breakthrough Philanthropy. The 20 Under 20 Thiel Fellowship, one of Peter Thiel’s latest projects, will fund and launch 24 young adults into entrepreneurship. The selected fellows will pursue innovative scientific and technical projects, learn entrepreneurship and begin to build the technology companies of tomorrow.
During their two-year tenure, each Fellow will receive $100,000 as well as mentorship from the Foundation’s network of tech entrepreneurs and innovators.
But as industry leaders seek to move innovation from theory to practice; does higher education have a continued role in entrepreneurial achievement? Moreover, without a huge cash injection, or no funding at all, can young entrepreneurs bankroll a big idea?
From Theory to Practice
No stranger to innovation, Thiel, the billionaire Facebook investor made e-commerce easier, faster, and more secure by co-founding and leading PayPal, which now boasts 98 million active financial accounts.
With a spark of genius and access to leadership, resources and mentorship Thiel believes these freshly-minted entrepreneurs can lead a new wave of innovation across industries.
Many believe that innovation and entrepreneurship cannot be taught in the classroom and that Thiel’s approach is long overdue.
College Fails to Teach Innovation
Innovation is something that does, not something that is. Great ideas with marked potential often fail without the infrastructure in place to support them. Thiel seeks to change the vicious cycle and empower tomorrow’s leaders with a different approach.
It starts with a closer look at the institutions that many rely on to nurture ideas. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, “The structural incentives within higher education seem to push against innovation,” said Dominic J. Brewer, an associate dean and professor of urban leadership and education at the University of Southern California. “They seem to push toward mimicry.”
Imitation, the opposite of innovation, is counterproductive. “Education can be obtained from many different sources,” said Sunny Martin the founder and CEO of Sunny Martin & Asssociates, an events and private label publishing company. “Michael Dell (Dell Computers), Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Russell Simmons (Rush Communications) are just a few of the gifted entrepreneurs that never graduated from college and went on to explore their passion for entrepreneurship.”
Bankrolling Small Business Innovation
Many entrepreneurs have opted to abandon the traditional education system and seek higher learning – the real world. But the real world isn’t without harsh realities. They are faced with even greater questions, including, “If I don’t have the capital should I move forward or throw in the towel?
“Entrepreneurs should determine whether or not they can even afford to bring their idea to life,” said Dante Lee, a 29-year old marketing guru, award-winning business coach and author of the book, Black Business Secrets. “It’s easy to come up with a big idea, but sometimes you need “big pockets” to make it happen. It’s better to go after the ideas that are simple, creative, easy-to-sell … and easy to bring to life on a shoe string budget.”
In contrast, if you don’t have big pockets, can you still execute on a big idea? Morgan First, CEO and co-founder of Second Glass, says yes. First launched her company to help people discover new wines and share it with their friends through technology and in-person events. But when it came time to build the technology the company couldn’t afford developers.
“There are lots of ways to create something even if you don’t have the cash right away,” said First. “Often you can start small and build your way up.” With the bigger picture idea in mind, First launched a brand extension focused on in-person events, called Wine Riot, to build the brand and generate short-term cash flow.
“The event was extremely successful and helped us build our brand, our customer base of wineries, millennial users and helped us grow the funds to bring on developers who then saw the mission,” said First.
Forget the Hype, Bring Your Game and Innovate
At the end of the day, entrepreneurs encourage others not to believe the hype. “If you don’t have cash and can’t raise outside capital, yet you feel very strongly in favor of your idea then time to bring your ‘E’ game, said Devesh Dwivedi, Founder of Breaking The 9to5 Jail, a community for aspiring entrepreneurs. “Be creative in building the company, pre-selling at a ridiculous discount to bring some cash and get things going.”
The lesson learned? Innovation is sparked from creativity. Imagination, the very source of ideation, isn’t cultivated in today’s classroom. And while big bank accounts can’t produce visionary ideas, creative minds can bankroll their own success. Pool together leadership, knowledge and resources to facilitate and nurture great ideas. Most importantly, change the world on your own terms.
To learn more about Peter Theil, for more information or to apply for the next round of fellows, visit 20under20.org. Don’t forget to make our friendship official and join Young, Fabulous & Self-Employed entrepreneurs on Facebook. Did you enjoy this article? If so, subscribe to YFS Magazine and never miss an update.
Photo Credits: Bart Nagel Photography