June 16, 2020

The Invisible College: $50k Investments

“1517 has financed the best education I’ve ever received.”

-- Alex Schwarzkopf, co-founder & CEO of Pillar

Updated August 26, 2020:

We have had a major interest in the Invisible College and are so thrilled to see so many people supporting the idea that college is not the only path, especially in this time of Zoom school.

As we've heard hundreds of pitches at this point, we realize that we are deeply inspired by those working on something in deep tech, science, or technology with a research or hardware development component to their work. For example we have funded nuclear batteries (which started as an IC check), gene editing algae, GPS 2.0, and quantum computing. Ideally $50K would be enough to validate research before moving onto pilot grants, contracts, and projects.

We love working with people who would like to do nothing more but geek out about a space and dive deeply into it. If this is you:

  • Apply to the Invisible College through our contact form
  • OR email us a five minute Loom video geeking out about the work you want to do and how $50K gets you started

The IC is a rolling program, so be in touch any time!



June 16, 2020

Today we are announcing our new program for students who want to work on a startup during a semester instead of attending classes. We’re calling it The Invisible College, after the underground scientific community of the 17th century, which was a forerunner to the creation of the Royal Society and helped spark the Scientific Revolution.

The original Invisible College was an informal group of natural philosophers, centered around Robert Boyle, who exchanged ideas by letters and encouraged each other as they established the methods of discovery we all take for granted today: facts, hypotheses, observations, replication. They had to keep the society secret because they feared the church, government, and other authorities of the period.

Members of our 1517 Invisible College will receive a $50,000 investment to run experiments that might turn research in science and technology into products and services. We will work closely with members of the IC to refine their ideas and adapt to what they learn. In the early days of the Thiel Fellowship--with people like Dylan Field of Figma and Vitalik Buterin of Ethereum--we saw how a small amount of money and mentorship could go a long way even with hard technologies. And one current 1517 portfolio company, Zeno Power, used our $50,000 investment to launch a nuclear battery company. They are now working with NASA and the Air Force.

The three conditions for applying to the IC is that at least one member of the founding team must not have graduated from college, they must commit to working on their idea full time for 4 - 6 months, and must be based in North America since teams will be expected to setup a C corp before investment occurs (if you're a potential global partner, who wants to spread the IC, please reach out!). Our preference will be to support teams working on the frontiers of science and tech--we love seeing R&D for hard tech--but we will also consider teams working on apps, consumer internet, or other pure software concepts. For those sort of fast and frivolous ideas, the burden of proof for the concept will be higher. But we welcome all!

If the experiments in the IC work out, we expect those companies to be ready for pre-seed stage startup capital from us ($250K). That is to say, the company will have by that point a few pilot contracts with customers, a strong proof of concept in the hands of users who love the product, or reached significant scientific milestones. And if it doesn’t work out, no harm no foul, and you learned a lot through an experience you can’t get anywhere else.

1517 also has our $1K grant program to help get projects off the ground. If you think your work isn't yet ready for the IC, apply through our contact form for a grant instead. See how one team built a startup using $1K.

Apply for the IC here - applications are open now! And to learn more, see our interview with the team at Next Gen!