Peter Thiel’s Latest Project: Funding For DIY Garage Scientists

He last turned heads by funding budding entrepreneurs who quit college to start businesses. Now Thiel’s Breakout Labs is doing the same for scientists, granting $50,000 to $350,000 to entrepreneurial-minded free radicals.



Last seen paying kids to drop out of college and starting his own private island nation, PayPal founder Peter Thiel has announced a new philanthropic venture that sounds a little more reasonable. Breakout Labs, Thiel said at a speech at Stanford, would grant $50,000 to $350,000 in funding to “entrepreneurial” scientists–those completely independent of typical research institutions–for very early projects that may even be pre-proof of concept. Some of the money must be paid forward through revenue-sharing agreements with Breakout Labs, and the scientists must pursue patents or publish their findings in open-access journals like PLoS, Creative Commons-style.

We’re increasingly living in an age of DIY biology, home gene splicing, and garage-based legions of alternative energy inventors. The Thiel Foundation told Fast Company that they expect grantees to be drawn from (sometimes, it seems, perpetually) cutting-edge fields
like biotech, nanotech, and even neurotech (applications of
new brain imaging and stimulus techniques).

They’re looking to support “platform technologies,” such as those in testing
and instrumentation, that can be the catalyst for many new advances, and to help new technologies vault across the “valley of death” from
experiment to commercial application.

By spurring the accomplishments of such outsider artists of science, just as he previously sought to reward entrepreneurs under 20, Thiel seems to be doubling down on his theory that “College is a bubble”–or at least that large institutions like universities and the federal government aren’t the only possible place to nurture new ideas and bright thinkers. Of course, in order for that theory to play out, they need to find at least one winner. Video of the announcement is here.

[Image: Flickr user singularitysummit]

About the author

Anya Kamenetz is the author of Generation Debt (Riverhead, 2006) and DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, (Chelsea Green, 2010). Her 2011 ebook The Edupunks’ Guide was funded by the Gates Foundation