19-year-old Grace Gee is pulling a Mark Zuckerberg. Just like the Facebook founder, she’s dropping out of Harvard University to become an entrepreneur. The only difference is, someone is paying her $100,000 to do it.
Gee and former Boston University student M.C. McGrath are two of the 20 recipients of the 2014 Thiel Fellowships, an entrepreneurship prize that awards fellows with $100,000 and mentorship over two years to help turn their ideas into viable business ventures.
These projects are no roadside lemonade stands. McGrath has developed a free software called Transparency Toolkit that rapidly analyzes documents to help investigative journalists uncover corruption and human rights abuses.
Gee, who is originally from Texas, co-founded a data analytics start-up, CortexML, with a fellow Harvard classmate Eugene Wang (not a Thiel Fellow).
PayPal co-founder and billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel started the fellowship program in 2010. His initiative to get kids to drop out of college and become entrepreneurs came at a time when college tuition prices were reaching an all-time high.
In the announcement of this year’s fellowship recipients, Thiel said the Fellows are part of a movement to find alternative pathways to success:
As student debt soars and the wages of college graduates sag, the need for more thoughtful and personalized approaches to finding success is greater than ever. We hope the 2014 Thiel Fellows inspire people of all ages as they demonstrate that intellectual curiosity, grit, and determination are more important than credetials for improving civilization.
In 2010, the average tuition for a four-year private college was almost $33,000. The average student in 2012 left college with nearly $30,000 in debt, and in 2014 the national student loan debt topped $1 trillion.
McGrath, for one, seems to be getting the best of both worlds. At 20, he’s already received his BA from Boston University.
The Foundation encourages its fellows to move to the San Francisco area to take advantage of the Bay Area’s plethora of business and mentorship opportunities.