Education and Technology Startups

A few years ago, Peter Thiel founded a program offering a $100,000 fellowship for entrepreneurial students interested in startups NOT to go to college. Yes, you heard right. His thinking was that building “world-changing companies” didn’t require an expensive bachelor’s degree.

Well, Vivek Wadhwa points out that there haven’t been many startups from Thiel’s fellowship which you’d call successes:

[…] three years later, there don’t seem to be any Thiel startups to be amazed at. The few successes lauded seem to be a mirage—or just plain silly. After all, is a “caffeine spray,” which Thiel Fellow Ben Yu developed with venture capitalist Deven Soni, a world-changing innovation that will “take civilization to the next level”? I don’t think so.

It isn’t that all of the projects were utter failures. But, rather, that surviving as a startup is still incredibly difficult.

That’s not to say that there aren’t a few interesting startups listed on the Thiel Foundation’s website. SunSaluter, founded by Eden Full, built a prototype of a device that rotates solar panels to follow the sun. Paul Gu is credited with co-founding a website,, to help people crowd-fund their education or business—in return for a percentage of their future earnings or revenue. (Ironically, this values a person more highly for better education and pedigree.) And Laura Deming was lauded for working on the development of a cure for aging.

But Eden Full is back at Princeton pursuing a Mechanical Engineering degree (she said to me by email that others are still working on her product). It turns out that Paul Gu didn’t come up with the idea for Upstart but joined some ex-Google executives who had. And Laura Deming abandoned her research to instead become a venture capitalist.

Wadhwa’s takeaway is simple. College still matters:

Yes, a few, such as Zuckerberg, Jobs, and Gates were able to achieve success after dropping out. But they surrounded themselves with very competent adults—and they were very lucky. All three have extolled the virtues of education and encouraged children to finish college. And their companies rarely hire college dropouts.



  1. college gives you a safety net, if nothing else. you can still have a start up during or after college, no?

  2. I think that’s the idea, provided college doesn’t leave you with thousands of dollars of loans weighing you down and keeping you from investing in your startup.

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