Thiel Foundation: Bay Area Grants

OVERVIEW: The Thiel Foundation supports scientific innovation and promotes freedom. While Thiel does grantmaking throughout the U.S., and in other parts of the world, its Bay Area grantmaking mainly involves supporting science and technology.

FUNDING AREAS: Science and technology, mimetic theory across social sciences, inventions

IP TAKE: A mainstay of Thiel's philanthropy is its Thiel Fellowship, which is a two-year program for young people who drop out of school to build new things. Many of these fellowships have gone to Bay Area youth.

PROFILE: After attending Stanford for undergrad and law school, the German-born Thiel served as an appeals court clerk and a derivative trader for Credit Suisse before founding Thiel Capital Management and cofounding PayPal. PayPal eventually went public and was later sold to eBay, making Thiel's shares worth roughly $55 million. Thiel used part of this fortune to found Clarium Capital, a global macro hedge fund. Although he leans to the right politically, he is openly gay and has been a supporter of LGBT causes.

Some of Thiel's philanthropy is done through the Thiel Foundation. His approach tends to involve bold, visionary initiatives whose goals are to transform society in the coming decades.

While Thiel's grantmaking and projects often span the U.S. and other countries (Canada for instance), a lot of money has gone to the Bay Area. The foundation currently operates three main projects. The Thiel Fellowships provide two-year funding for young people who drop out of school to build new things. In past years, a number of different Bay Area youths have received these fellowships and it appears that the foundation may have a preference for this region.

Thiel also launched Breakout Labs, an initiative designed to reshape the way early-stage science is funded by bridging the gap between initial funding from venture capital firms and small labs and government or other major funding. Recently, Cytovale Inc.,"an early stage life sciences company" in the San Francisco area received $350,000. Stealth Biosciences a Palo Alto company which builds nanoscale devices to measure and control biology recently received around $134,000. 

Other technology companies in the Bay Area which have seen Thiel's money in past years include the Sense Research Foundation and the Seasteading Institute, an interesting outfit that tries to bring the principle of homesteading and property rights to the unsettled oceans of the world.

Another Thiel project is Imitatio, which promotes the idea that imitation drives human behavior. These grants go towards furthering research and application of mimetic theory across the social sciences.

Thiel has been a steady supporter of the UCSF Foundation, and further south in Southern California, has been a supporter of Claremont McKenna College and the Ayn Rand Institute. While Thiel is right of center ideologically, he's also an openly gay man, has been an outspoken supporter of GOProud, and was a fundraiser for the campaign that successfully argued the case which overturned California's Prop 8 in the Supreme Court.

Former Thiel Foundation president Jonathan Cain was a cofounder of the Thiel Fellowships, and sat on the boards of the SENS Research Foundation and the Seasteading Institute. In the past few years, it has had an overhaul of staff and newer players are at work here. In past years, annual grantmaking at the Thiel Foundation has averaged $6-$8 million. The foundation has an informative website and, while it has no grantmaking guidelines, it says it's open to hearing people's ideas.


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