Thursday, June 02, 2011

Thiel's Twenty Under Twenty

Talent development does not happen in a vacuum. One of the reasons US teams do so well in, say, basketball, is that the talent development system is quite mature and sophisticated. Coaches and programs scout for high potential middle schoolers, who are then funneled into certain high school programs known for training top talent. College coaches know about the best high schoolers by 9th grade, and see that they go to certain camps, work with certain trainers and so forth. Why is this system so well developed? For starters, we care about it. We all want to see our favorite college team hit the Final Four, thus making celebrities out of players, and the money that is there in college basketball (albeit not to the players) and in the NBA (finally to the players) is so good that people are willing to do a lot to nurture the talent that might someday claim it.

It is in that context that I've been thinking about the Thiel Foundation's Twenty Under Twenty program. The Thiel Foundation is funded by Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal. The foundation seeks to promote new ideas and technological and scientific progress that will improve people's lives.

One way to do that? Contribute to the market for talent development. So the Thiel Foundation is giving 20 $100,000 fellowships to young people under age 20 to pursue their ideas under the mentorship of leading scientific, technological and financial thinkers. You can read about this year's fellows here.

It is obviously hard to know what will come out of this. Given that Thiel is a brilliant businessman, I'm sure there's some hope to be able to invest in breakthrough start-up concepts. Who knows if the fellows will produce such things? But putting money and mentorship toward talent development usually creates something, and I'm excited to see how this program grows over the years.

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