Two young Waterloo Region startup entrepreneurs are among the 20 latest recipients of the Thiel Fellowship, a hugely competitive – and controversial – program founded by San Francisco entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel. Harry Gandhi, 22, co-founder of Medella Health, and Liam Horne, 19, Chief Technology Officer at PiinPoint, were among the select few to win the $100,000 fellowship from among a record 2,800 applicants from around the world.
In addition to offering money and mentorship, the Thiel Fellowship awards students who are willing to drop out of university or college to pursue their potentially game-changing ventures. “College can be good for learning about what’s been done before, but it can also discourage young people from doing something new – especially when it leaves them in debt,” Thiel said today in a news release. “Each of the fellows charts a unique course, but together they have proven that young people can succeed by thinking for themselves instead of competing on old career tracks.” Medella Health, a University of Waterloo Velocity company where Gandhi is CEO, is creating a smart contact lens platform for continuous, non-invasive monitoring of health vitals, starting with diabetes management. The ultimate goal is to catch and prevent diseases rather than treat them only after symptoms appear.
At PiinPoint, Horne builds software that uses demographic, real estate and traffic data to help retailers decide where to open new locations. PiinPoint, an alumni of California accelerator Y Combinator, is part of the first cohort of Communitech’s Rev accelerator program, whose aim is to boost revenue for startups with developed products. Iain Klugman, CEO of Communitech, Waterloo Region’s hub for tech innovation, said the awarding of Thiel Fellowships to two local entrepreneurs speaks volumes about the talent produced in this community. “This is yet more proof of the world-class ingenuity of our young entrepreneurs,” Klugman said.
The 80 current and former Thiel Fellows have raised more than $142 million in venture capital and generated $41 million in revenue, according to today’s release. Thiel fellows have created 375 jobs and addressed problems ranging from telemedicine and human longevity to solar energy and clean water.