April 18, 2019

How to Apply to the Thiel Fellowship

The fellowship was conceived 24 hours prior to this interview with Sarah Lacy on Michael’s first day of work

It less than a year, it will be ten years myself and Michael have been working with younger founders. We were both on the founding team of the Thiel Fellowship and ran everything from the application process, to selection, to programming, and individual needs of our makers and founders.

People ask us what makes us different from other firms that work with students and I don’t think any other firm has as much institutional knowledge of working with and growing out the young entrepreneurial ecosystem. Before 2010, younger founders were few and far between, and being a dropout was for losers.

Today, children and parents talk about higher ed more critically and the conversation about whether college is worth it is normalized. We may be at peak entrepreneurship when Billions on Showtime uses the term “2 and 20” in dialogue with no explanation needed.

Regularly we get questions on applying to the fellowship. Since we started 1517, we can’t speak to the current application process specifically, but here are some key points about what makes a great applicant stand out.

  1. You don’t get the fellowship for applying to the fellowship. You get it for making progress on your work. Keep focused on what you are doing and where you are going.
  2. Many grants for young people focus on your past achievements. For the fellowship, you want to balance your past with your future. What have you done and where are you going. You get the fellowship for showing past efforts while also garnering the sense that you are just beginning and that there is so much more to come.
  3. This leads to updating your application regularly. Applications are like fruit, fresh at first but they wither over time. Two weeks in the life of a project can have major twists and turns, make sure to communicate those.
  4. Get advice from a current Thiel Fellow — they’ve been through the most recent process and can tell you more about it from their perspective.
  5. Find potential recommenders, either current or past Thiel Fellows, or investors, founders, etc. We also make direct recommendations into the program when appropriate.

Lastly, remember that receiving or not receiving the Thiel Fellowship is just a part of a journey. It’s not who you are. There are other communities and support structures, such as Next Gen, Kairos, The Knowledge Society, our own community for 1517 (email us about it — info [at] 1517fund.com), and more. If you get the fellowship, keep on keeping on. If you don’t get the fellowship, keep on keeping on. You get the gist.

Originally published on Medium on April 18, 2019, here.