NET WORTH: $2.7 billion
SOURCE OF WEALTH: PayPal, Facebook
FUNDING AREAS: Science and Technology, Freedom and Humanitarian Efforts, LGBT rights
OVERVIEW: Peter Thiel has a background in finance, specializing in early-stage investment in software and technology companies. Although he leans to the right politically, he is openly gay and is an avid supporter of LGBT causes. His philanthropy in other areas, such as science and technology and humanitarian efforts, is done through the Thiel Foundation. His approach tends to involve bold, visionary initiatives whose goals are to lay a foundation that will truly transform society in the coming decades. Thiel has developed a fellowship program that encourages young people to pursue similarly bold ideas.
BACKGROUND: 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 that had acquired more than $8 billion in assets by 2008 but lost more than 90% of its value shortly after due primarily to bad bets on oil prices and the value of U.S. and foreign currencies.
Thiel has done far better, however, with his personal investments in social networking and technology companies. In 2004, he became Facebook's first outside investor, acquiring a 10.2% stake for $500,000. Following Facebook's IPO, Thiel cashed out more than $1 billion in Facebook shares, retaining only a small fraction to maintain his seat on the company's board of directors. Thiel has made successful investments in other companies, such as LinkedIn, Yelp, and online game manufacturer Zygna, either through hedge funds he manages, such as the Founders Fund, or through personal investments. In 2010, he cofounded Palantir, a software and services company that deals primarily with the federal government. It was valued at $15 billion in a recent year.
Thiel is politically active, having been a major contributor to Ron Paul's presidential campaign in 2008 and Meg Whitman's campaign for governor of California in 2010. He has contributed more than $1 million to the Club for Growth, making him its largest donor, and he is a major donor to the Endorse Liberty SuperPAC and sits on the steering committee of the Bilderberg Group. Although Thiel leans to the right politically, he is openly gay and has supported organizations such as American Foundation for Equal Rights and GOProud. In the area of philanthropy, he is mainly interested in science and technology. But he has championed a number of other causes as well, mainly through the Thiel Foundation and Thiel Fellowships.
PHILOSOPHY: Thiel tends to concentrate his philanthropic efforts on potential breakthrough technologies. His foundation's mission is to defend and promote political, personal, and economic freedom by supporting innovative research and technology, championing organizations and individuals that expose human rights violations and authoritarianism, and encouraging the exploration of new ideas and spaces where people can be less reliant on government. Many of the organizations and programs Thiel supports might be considered cutting-edge by some standards and radical by others. He has created, for example, the Thiel Fellowship, which provides grants of $100,000 with no strings attached to young people under the age of 20, encourages them to drop out of or skip college altogether, and gives them the tools to focus on their work, research, and self-education. Thiel is using his considerable resources to accelerate the efforts of science and technology, in particular, to get us there.
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY: Thiel is a big supporter of cutting-edge science and technology, having made major contributions to organizations that work on artificial intelligence and anti-aging research. Recently, the Thiel Foundation 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, which generally is much more conservative in nature. Breakout Labs uses an innovative revolving funding model in which successful projects fund the next generation of scientific exploration. Thiel was instrumental in developing a conference that highlights organizations and individuals doing groundbreaking work in these areas. In 2015, Thiel joined Elon Musk and Reid Hoffman in helping fund the $1 billion OpenAI, a center dedicated to researching how best artificial intelligence can help mankind.
HUMANITARIAN EFFORTS: Thiel believes in promoting the ideal of freedom around the world, and he is dedicated to supporting organizations that defend freedom of speech and access to information, expose human rights abuses, and explore highly innovative models for society. He is a major supporter of the Human Rights Foundation and the Committee to Protect Journalists, was instrumental in creating the Oslo Freedom Forum, and has created a program through his foundation that funds research into the behavioral and biological origins of violence. His vision of freedom and his desire to push boundaries and open new conversations have also led him to support the Seasteading Institute, which works to develop and create autonomous floating communities in international waters.
LGBT RIGHTS: Thiel is openly gay and has personally supported organizations that champion LGBT issues in the past. Although some have criticized him for simultaneously supporting organizations and political candidates with anti-gay agendas, he has been an outspoken supporter of GOProud, a donor to the American Foundation for Equal Rights, and a fundraiser for the campaign that successfully argued the case which overturned California's Prop 8 in the Supreme Court.
LOOKING FORWARD: Thiel is inclined toward bold proposals and has proven to support new and innovative ideas at an earlier stage than many of his fellow philanthropists. His recent backing of OpenAI, shows a growing interest in articial general intelligence.