The recent documentary on CNBC, 20 Under 20: Transforming Tomorrow program, highlights an exciting shift in technology and education and it’s creating quite a stir. This program started when a visionary from Silicon Valley named Peter Thiel decided to undergo a search for the next generation of entrepreneurs. Mr. Thiel started a fellowship program where he offers the winning fellows $100,000 to drop out of college to pursue cutting edge business and technology opportunities.
The documentary tells the stories of the young men and women who are competing for the coveted prize. The most notable requirement of this program is that in order to become a Thiel Fellow you must walk away from your education to focus on entrepreneurship full time. There’s no secret that many successful entrepreneurs abandoned college to work on their passion full time. People like Michael Dell of Dell Computers, Mary Kay Ash of Mary Kay Cosmetics, Walt Disney, Henry Ford of Ford Motor Company, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are just a few super successful examples who dropped out of school.
Some major breakthrough ideas are in the forefront and presented by finalists competing to become Thiel Fellows. The winning Thiel Fellows include Connor Zwick, who left Harvard behind to revolutionize America’s education system, Noor Siddiqui, who plans to lift one billion people out of poverty, and Tony Ho and Anand Gupta who think they’ve found a way to help doctors catch cancer before it’s too late.
The documentary 20 Under 20: Transforming Tomorrow focused on the finalists in the competition, but I was able to speak with Alaxic Smith who made it through to the third round of the four-round competition. Smith presented the idea of making the internet valuable with a product called The Sandbox. Through the process of developing The Sandbox, Smith figured out that it was too complex and changed the concept to what is now Communly.com. The goal of his site is to build communities and use those to find out what is trending now, based on your interests. Smith is close to securing funding for his vision so things are working out pretty well for him without the Thiel selection.
He’s not a seasoned entrepreneur, but rather barely old enough to drive. This past school year, Smith completed the tenth grade, but has decided to leave school to pursue his dream full time, hopefully in San Francisco. “I don’t have any plans or intentions to ever focus on school again. Building products and startups using the programming and design skills that I’ve taught myself have paid off for me far more than my schooling has,” said Smith. “Just because I won’t be actively pursuing a degree like other people my age doesn’t mean I won’t be learning. I learn a ton of new things every day, by doing. Learn by doing, not by sitting and listening.”
One key piece of advice that Alaxic shared for those who want to start their own company was to execute your ideas as soon as possible. “If you have an idea, a ton of people have that idea as well. The only thing that separates you from those other people is executing on your idea and getting it built,” he said. “No one is known for an idea they had, they’re known for the result of executing on their idea.”
The last piece of advice that Alaxic shared was for those that may want to compete to be Thiel Fellows in the future. “Don’t let the Fellowship be your only option to create opportunities. Create those opportunities for yourself. Even though I didn’t make the finalist round of the Fellowship, I still ventured out to California the same week it was held. If I would have let the fact that I didn’t make the finalist round get me down, I would have never made that trip and taken such a risk,” he said.
While abandoning an education in favor of entrepreneurship isn’t a viable option for everyone, the Thiel Fellowship highlights the importance of fostering the creativity of young aspiring entrepreneurs. The quote from Jim O’Neill, “You don’t need a degree to start a business, and you don’t need a degree to change the world,” was tweeted by @naarnett about the documentary.
“They should show this series in every high school in America to help inspire the next generation,” said @DavidAdewumi. Encouraging entrepreneurs through programs like 20 Under 20: Transforming Tomorrow is a great way to keep ideas coming that can, and no doubt will, change the world.