Entrepreneurship Entrepreneurship

What we set out to investigate

Last fall, investor Peter Thiel launched his 20 Under 20 Fellowship, which offers young entrepreneurial students $100K grants and expert guidance to pursue their tech start-up dreams. The catch? Current students—i.e., nearly all the participants—have to drop out of school to work on their ideas full-time for a two-year period. At first glance, the Thiel Fellowship seems like a great opportunity, but its under-20 requirement presents a clear ethical dilemma: Is it right to encourage students to drop out of school? Given that the vast majority of tech start-ups fail, is it truly in the participants' best interest to forgo a college education and work on such a high-risk project?

Taking the Thiel Fellowship as a case study, we examine the unique entrepreneurial environment at Stanford—it seems like every Stanford student wants to start his/her own company—and consider its causes and consequences. We interview current students, alumni entrepreneurs, professors, and representatives from many of the entrepreneurship groups and programs on campus (e.g., STVP, Mayfield Fellows, SSE Labs, BASES, ASES) to answer some of the big-picture questions surrounding Stanford's entrepreneurship culture: Does Stanford focus too heavily on entrepreneurship at the expense of a classical liberal arts education? Does the university train real innovators or simply business leaders? After all, it's been said that the various Institutes of Technology produce stronger engineers than Stanford, but Stanford engineers end up managing the others. With so many other universities and regional governments around the world trying to emulate the dual prosperity of the Stanford-Silicon Valley connection, we should make sure that we're truly worthy of the flattery.

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