How Peter Thiel’s fellowship program spawned powerhouse players collectively worth over $220 billion, from crypto giant Ethereum to rival Adobe Figma

Vitalik Buterin, co-founder of Ethereum; Pierre Thiel; Luminar CEO Austin Russell.Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images; Marco Bello/Getty Images; Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch

  • The Peter Thiel Bursary Program has been distributing $100,000 checks to young entrepreneurs for 11 years.

  • The only problem? You have to drop out of college to pursue your big idea.

  • The program has contributed to the success of some big names, like Ethereum’s Vitalik Buterin.

Peter Thiel has been paying young adults $100,000 to drop out of college and start their own business for 11 years now.

The famed Silicon Valley investor and former Trump adviser founded his Thiel Scholarship Program through his foundation for students aged 22 or younger.

The idea was to help young people see their budding ideas funded and realized through access to coaching from renowned CEOs and other entrepreneurs, without the burden of attending classes in a university setting. The program encourages scholars to return to school afterward, but not all do.

The likes of Ethereum champion Vitalkin Buterin, Adobe rival Figma and others have sprung up thanks to Thiel, who has been open about his stance on overstating higher education.

“For some people, it’s still worth it,” Thiel told Newsweek in early 2017, referring to getting a college degree. “But a lot of graduates can’t find good jobs; they’re in debt and going home to their parents. People are starting to see that something is wrong.”

Here are some of the projects that came out of Thiel’s scholarship.


founder of vitalik buterin ethereum

Buterine.Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

These days, Ethereum is a household name for anyone even remotely following the world of crypto. It is a decentralized network with a native coin, Ether, which has become the second largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization.

But in 2014, its then 20-year-old founder, Vitalkin Buterin, sought help from Thiel’s prolific scholarship program to help push forward his project, which he had already started – he wrote a white paper on Ethereum in 2013 and co-launched Bitcoin Magazine, a media outlet highlighting developments in digital currency.

He dropped out of the University of Waterloo after a year of studying computer science.

In 2014, Ethereum raised $15.5 million in an initial coin offering (ICO) that involves companies selling crypto to users in hopes that it will appreciate in value.


Dylan Field


Dylan Field was 19 when he won a place on Thiel’s scholarship in 2012 and dropped out of Brown University.

His idea originally involved drones – it was a long and messy road before his idea for Figma crystallized enough to get funding.

Figma, a design software company that lets users create, share and collaborate on their work in the cloud, was founded in 2012 but only started shipping its product in 2015.

It became a major rival to Adobe and is now valued at $10 billion. Some of the biggest tech companies, like Dropbox, Twitter, and Slack, use the software.

Field has a net worth of $1 billion and is on the Forbes 30 under 30 list. He posted on Twitter earlier this month to celebrate Figma’s 10th anniversary and thank the company’s “Figmates,” a nickname for employees.



Polkadot was one of three altcoins listed by Greenberg.Jakub Porzycki/Getty Images

Like Ethereum, Robert Habermeier had previously co-founded Polkadot alongside Ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood (who coined the term Web3) and was 20 when he won the Thiel Scholarship in 2018. He had also previously dropped out of college to focus on building Polkadot, a blockchain platform with superior scalability that allows different blockchains to interact with each other. Its cryptocurrency is now ranked 10th in terms of market capitalization.

Polkadot held an initial coin offering in 2017 and raised $140 million by selling half of its 10 million tokens. It is now a major crypto player in the industry.

OYO Rooms

Ritesh Agarwal

Oyo CEO Ritesh Agarwal.Oyo

Ritesh Agarwal was 19 when he won in 2013.

He attended Stanford University for a month before dropping out with Thiel’s funding in hand. His idea was to launch a network of affordable hotels and accommodation options, and although it took him a few tries to get it right, he eventually launched OYO Rooms (“alone”) in India the same year.

The company has since raised $1.6 billion in funding and is valued at $9 billion. It operates in 35 countries.

Light Technologies

Luminar Technologies Founder and CEO Austin Russell speaks at a conference

Austin Russell, founder and CEO of Luminar.Kimberly White / Rope

Austin Russell founded his company, a maker of lidar sensors for self-driving cars, when he was just 17. He briefly went to Stanford before dropping out at 18 when he won the Thiel Scholarship.

Luminar went public under the ticker symbol LAZR in December 2020 via SPAC, raising $590 million through the merger.

The company has partnered with car giant Volvo to create key features for its all-electric car project.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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