For the second consecutive year, two young entrepreneurs who studied at the University of Waterloo are among recipients of the Thiel Fellowship, an exclusive $100,000 prize for students willing to suspend or quit their studies to build companies.

Alex Rodrigues, co-founder of autonomous vehicle company Varden Labs (pictured at left, above) and Panashe Mahachi, co-founder of Lace Labs, which helps municipalities buy cutting-edge software, were named among 29 new Thiel Fellows chosen from more than 6,000 applicants from around the world.

The fellowship, controversial for its focus on students who are willing to leave school before graduating, was founded by star Silicon Valley investor and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel. In addition to $100,000 each, fellows receive mentorship from current and former fellows, along with access to an influential network of investors, entrepreneurs and scientists with ties to the Thiel Foundation.

“We launched the fellowship in 2011 to test a simple thesis: college isn’t right for everyone –especially for young people who want to create new things,” Blake Masters, President of the Thiel Foundation, said in a news release issued today. “This has been proven true – by the successes of our past fellows, by the new applications we get every year, and by the growing numbers of young people who are creating their own career paths outside of college, with or without a fellowship from us.”

A year ago, another pair of Waterloo Region startup entrepreneurs – Harry Gandhi of Medella Health and Liam Horne of PiinPoint – were named Thiel Fellows from among a field of 2,800 applicants.

PiinPoint, whose technology uses data to help businesses choose the best locations to open franchises, raised investment from California’s Y Combinator program and went on to participate in Communitech’s Rev accelerator. Medella Health, which is developing a smart contact lens that monitors blood sugar levels in people with diabetes, recently raised a seed investment round.

“In the past few years we’ve seen a dramatic change in the way young people approach their potential,” Jack Abraham, Executive Director of the Thiel Fellowship, said in today’s release. “Many are applying to the program with one or two companies already under their belts –they’ve become successful founders before they can even buy a beer.”

Companies founded by Thiel Fellows are worth more than $1.4 billion, the release said.

About The Author

Anthony Reinhart
Director, Editorial Strategy
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Anthony Reinhart is a veteran journalist who left the Globe and Mail to join Communitech in 2011. Tony has covered everything from crime, politics and courts to business, the arts and sports, and his writing has won numerous journalism awards. He is Communitech's Director of Editorial Strategy and senior staff writer.