Facebook investor to fund new tech ideas

NEW YORK - Facebook investor and board member Peter Thiel plans to make 20 grants of as much as US$100,000 ($135,000) apiece to teenagers who have promising ideas for technology businesses.

The investor's Thiel Foundation will award as many as 20 grants to individuals or small teams of entrepreneurs by the end of 2011, Thiel said this week during a technology conference in San Francisco.

Some partners at the Founders Fund, the venture capital firm co-founded by Thiel, will act as advisers and mentors to the grant winners.

The grants are aimed at removing some of the barriers, such as heavy course loads and high college costs, that young people face as they try to create businesses, Thiel said.

He was one of the first investors of Facebook, which like Microsoft and Apple, was founded by a person who hadn't completed college.

"We need to encourage young Americans to take more risks," Thiel said. Traditional education steers young people away from entrepreneurship and into steady jobs, he said.

"While they are able to get certain types of jobs with it, the problem is they can't actually do anything that pays less in the short term and may have more value in the long run."

Besides Facebook, other startups created by teenagers in recent years include Halcyon Molecular, a genetic engineering company, and Napster, the music file-sharing site created by programmer Shawn Fanning, Thiel said. He was one of Halcyon's investors.

The greatest opportunities for new and world-changing businesses may lie in the hard sciences, as opposed to consumer-oriented internet startups, Thiel said.

- BLOOMBERG

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