Toronto’s Project RHINO coworking space is welcoming Canada’s first Thiel Fellowship Event this Friday evening.
The Thiel Fellowship takes it’s name from the famed PayPal cofounder and super angel investor Peter Thiel, who started the formerly-titled “20 under 20” in May 2011. The fellowship is for students under the age of 20 and offers them a total of $100,000 over two years to effectively forego university. Guidance and other resources are offered for the student’s projects, which could involve scientific research, creating a startup, or working on a social movement. Between 20 and 30 fellows are selected annually.
The event will be hosted at the new and freshly revamped RHINO lounge, a previously unoccupied space in Project RHINO’s offices off of King West. Cofounder Neil Martin said the timing for the RHINO lounge kick-off and the Thiel Fellowship meet up is perfect.
“For us it’s awesome that the first time people will be in our new space will be for Canada’s first Thiel Fellowship event, so that’s really cool,” he said. “We had had our eye on expansion for a while so it was the perfect thing to get us in gear and acquire a new space.”
The Thiel Fellowship’s unique ideology of encouraging young people to forego school in favour of the entrepreneur life resonated well with Project RHINO. Martin said entrepreneurship is something that requires a leap of faith, and “we see RHINO as this haven for people who made the decision to go for it.”
“We have people in our space who dropped out of school or quit their full time jobs to put it all on the line and chase their passion,” added Martin. “Given that that’s essentially the mission of the Thiel Fellowship I thought it was a perfect partnership.”
Unfortunately for anyone looking to attend, the event was capped at about 80 guests, all of which spots were quickly claimed. Martin said that more spots could become available before Friday.
The two speakers set to speak are two of Canada’s bright young minds in Michael Cheng and Maya Burhanpurkar. Cheng was named as one of Macleans’ “Canada’s future leaders under 25,” while the 13-year-old prodigy Burhanpurkar has already garnered significant spotlight at a young age for her work in the biological sciences.
According to Wikipedia, Burhanpurkar is a “high school scientist.” At the age of just 12, she developed an intelligent-antibiotic, which selectively kills pathogenic bacteria such as E-coli but preserves the body's helpful intestinal microbiota bacteria. For this she received the S.M. Blair Foundation award for innovation. Burhanpurkar also won the Grand Platinum Award at the 2013 Canada-Wide Science Fair for her work on the cardiac and gastrointestinal safety of two Alzheimer's drugs. Needless to say, these are the kinds of high-potential young minds that the Thiel Fellowship is salivating over.
Cheng leads The Next 36-based startup Needle HR in Toronto. He previously lead 11 different startups, mostly in the creative talent space. Before coming to The Next 36, the 23-year-old from Surrey, BC was offered a lecturer’s position in digital design. He hadn’t even finished his first year at Simon Fraser University.
Cheng feels that his generation is the first to be in the “sweet spot.” For the first time, age isn’t nearly the deterrent to entrepreneurial success that it used to be. “Throughout my life entrepreneurship at a young age meant a lot to me and I think our generation is really the first that has the opportunity to make an impact under the age of 20,” Cheng told Techvibes. “Technology and the Internet has allowed people with much less experience and less age behind them to actually make a difference. I think its important that more young people get to seize that and also see examples of other people making an impact at a young age.”
The Thiel Fellowship didn’t exist over four years ago when Cheng was still 19, but according to the young entrepreneur, “I would have loved to participate if I was a couple years younger.”
According to Project RHINO, if potential visitors want to join the community, meet exceptional youth or simply look for something to do on a Friday evening, “this is a life-changing opportunity you can’t miss.” Those interested will want to listen closely for updates from Project RHINO regarding more spots opening up.