Belief capital encourages taking the leap into the unknown. It's when someone you respect puts their resources (this could be money, time, reputation, etc.) on the line before others recognize you as someone deemed worthy of their support. This leap doesn't look so daunting when someone else has your back.
"Danielle and Michael were our biggest early believers. They met with us weekly, gave us feedback, and wired us money before the deal docs were done as our preseed lead so that we wouldn't run out of money 48hrs later. Can't honestly say Loom would be a company if it hadn't been for their belief."
- Joe Thomas, CEO and founder of Loom
When Michael and I were at the Thiel Foundation, we put $100K grants behind young people like Vitalik Buterin, Dylan Field, Laura Deming, Austin Russell, and Ritesh Agarwal to get them started on what would become extraordinary journeys, building organizations and companies that would be recognized by the masses years later. In our last year at the foundation, our team piloted a new idea, offering smaller $1K grants to young people to help nudge them to build.
In 2015, we took our own leap to create a venture fund with the purpose of scaling our work at the Thiel Foundation to back those without college degrees. In the first weeks of 1517, on a hot summer day, we offered our first $1K grant to a teen in a Boston cafe. It was the first check that 1517 ever wrote (we played with the idea of handing out grants in black envelopes flush with cash, but we knew that checks and Venmo would be safer).
We continued to give out hundreds of $1K grants in a mysterious fashion -- meeting wily young people in person on campuses at office hours, hackathons, frat houses, and high school classrooms across the country. Until today, we haven't marketed our grants because there is a quality of magic that happens when giving these out on the road, serendipitously meeting a great teen to work with and surprising them on the spot. No application, no competition theatre, just seeing that glint of passion and excitement in a teen's eyes to make something greater.
Though there is nothing quite like this fairy godmother moment in person, we want to encourage more of you to start a great journey now rather than waiting for 1.) the right time, 2.) when you're finished with school, 3.) or when you "grown up." Had people like Vitalik, Dylan, or Laura waited until society gave them permission, we'd be without some great advances in blockchain, collaboration, and longevity technology.
So today we introduce, 1517 Medici Project, to unveil our grant program to those near and far:
Want to take a project to the next level? Can’t stop thinking about that idea that could be a game changer? Want to learn by doing and making?
1517 Medici Project works with high school, college students, and dropouts to launch projects to make humanity better. These projects should not be for school, a grade, admissions to other programs, etc. They are for the love and burning desire to create something — you can’t not think about doing this!
This could be in the sciences, tech, mathematics, the arts, etc. We want you to pursue your passions and contribute to meaningful and novel work.
As part of 1517 Medici Project, you and your collaborators will be granted a minimum $1K stipend to further your project. This isn’t money for what you’ve done, it’s not an award, it’s a stipend towards your future potential. We trust you to spend this money as you see fit, but of course these monies are best spent on moving your project forward and we greatly appreciate makers maximizing on the opportunity by being creatively scrappy. This is a no strings attached grant — we don’t own you, your project, any IP generated, future equity in anything you generate, etc. It’s a Venmo payment.
1517 specifically doesn’t believe in accelerators or programs that try to tell you that you need to be guided through a process to become successful. We believe that people who are driven will reach their destination with or without us, but like an excellent coach, we are here to help map out the journey.
As part of that, we will share our decade+ of experience (as cofounders of the Thiel Fellowship and 1517) working with makers and share stories that are relevant to your experience. We have worked with some of the most driven, curious, and successful young makers and founders like Vitalik Buterin (Ethereum), Dylan Field (Figma), Laura Deming (Longevity Fund), Shahed Khan (Loom), etc. We will connect you to the best who have come before you when the time is right!
We’ll work with your team to identify mentors, team members, additional sources of capital, and connect you to a vibrant community of peers to go the distance together. Projects do not have to be a startup, but should it turn into one, 1517 can invest with further capital and venture scalable thinking. We’ve been running our grants in stealth mode for almost a decade with past projects including those in space, robotics, autonomous vehicles, software, battery tech, energy, VR/AR, etc. Presso, a robotics company, shares how they utilized their grant. And Phoebe Yao (below) raised $4.5M for Pareto, the virtual analyst for entrepreneurs, 2 years after receiving a $1k grant.
If you are interested in receiving a grant from 1517, we would love to hear from you. Email us (any of us with firstname @1517fund.com) with a five minute Loom video. We’d love to know who you are (how you got interested in your topic area, unique hobbies); why you want to eat, drink, and breathe your project; and how a grant would help further your future.