Grant Opportunities for Ambitious Innovators
Around the world there are many passionate innovators who have an idea for the future, and need some support in order to achieve their goals. These people are journalists, entrepreneurs, scientists, and everything in between, with one thing in common — they are ambitious and have the drive to pursue a project that could make a difference. Some of the best entrepreneurs and innovators in the world have came from non-traditional backgrounds and countries — Elon Musk was from South Africa before moving to Canada, Albert Einstein was a clerk for the Bern patent office. The people who will develop the future are globally distributed.
There are a number of grants, fellowships, and other opportunities available to ambitious young people which aim to democratize access to opportunity, so that everyone who is passionate about a particular area can explore it in depth and create their own futures. These opportunities bring a number of benefits such as access to some capital to pursue a project, the ability to visit San Francisco, access to a community of those who subvert the norms, among many other things. As a recipient of the Pioneer grant, and someone who has worked with people who have got their start with some of the opportunities mentioned in this article, I can personally attest to the benefits these programs bring.
In this article, I will explore three of the most popular grants, and share a list of similar opportunities available to entrepreneurs and other ambitious innovators.
Pioneer is a monthly contest for the “ambitious outsiders” of the world, to help them turn their ideas into a reality. The aim of Pioneer is to identify the “lost Einsteins” of the world and help them access the resources they need — funding, mentorship, and a strong community — in order to thrive and achieve their goals. Founder of Pioneer, Daniel Gross, has referred to Pioneer as a “vehicle for scaling Californian optimism, thinking and culture”, based on his interactions with participants.
Pioneer is unique to other grants in that it does not leverage an application process to identify talent. They have created a leaderboard which showcases the most hard-working participants which changes as participants, Pioneers, and experts vote on weekly status updates. The program asks that participants submit weekly progress updates which outlines their goals for the next week, their past achievements, and what they need assistance with, and the more progress they make, the higher their rank will be on the leaderboard. Pioneer is attempting to build an “Ivy League campus” for the internet, where people from around the world can come together and showcase and share their ideas and projects, and help others succeed in the process.
Terms: Pioneer selects a few dozen participants each month from the tournament to become “Pioneers”. These people are eligible to receive a $1,000 grant to spend however they want, $6,000 in Stellar lumens, mentorship, a round-trip plane ticket to Silicon Valley for a trip with other Pioneers, among many other things. Pioneer also reserves the right to invest up to $100,000 in Pioneers’ projects if they become companies and start to raise capital.
The Thiel Fellowship
The Thiel Fellowship, founded by a co-founder of PayPal Peter Thiel, is perhaps the most well-known grant opportunity available to young entrepreneurs. The Thiel Fellowship gives ambitious young people $100,000 who want to build new things and learn by doing, instead of sitting in a classroom and learning in a traditional environment. The Thiel Fellowship’s value prop concisely describes why the fellowship exists and what they invest: “Two years. $100,000. Some ideas can’t wait”.
Thiel believes that when people are given enough freedom, they are able to work faster and smarter and produce greater results. The fellowship invests in people who are looking to pursue a non-traditional path and who have a vision for the future that they would like to develop. There is no requirement to be working on a specific company, although applicants must be able to demonstrate progress toward some goal — macro or micro. Participants in the Thiel Fellowship can access the wide network of founders and Fellows the fellowship has cultivated, and are given access to numerous different opportunities to grow and develop their products.
Terms: The Thiel Fellowship is a two-year program for young people aged 22 or younger who want to build new things. Thiel Fellows are required to drop out of high school or college in exchange for receiving a $100,000 grant and support from the fellowship’s community of other Thiel Fellows, founders, investors, and more. There are no location requirements in order to accept the fellowship, and they accept around 20 to 30 Fellows each year on a rolling basis.
1517 Fund invests in companies that are led by young founders. The fund makes grant, pre-seed, and seed investments into founders who are working on technology projects or startups. They focus on ambitious young people who are interested in subverting the norms and pursuing their own path, because “the path geared towards higher education is not for all”. 1517 Fund provides people with the capital that they need to explore subjects they are interested in, and helps them turn their ideas and projects into viable companies.
The 1517 Fund team includes people who formerly worked on the Thiel Fellowship, and have a wide range of skills in a variety if different subject areas. 1517 Fund are interested in investing in people — not companies — because they believe in working with the people who can create the future and those who are looking to pursue difficult problems with a unique solution. The team likes to hear from founders before they are ready to raise capital or receive a grant and believe that by developing strong upfront relationships they can provide better support to founders at every stage in their journey, and help them determine their next course of action.
Terms: 1517 Fund invests $250,000 for founding teams in their seed round to help them accelerate their project and develop their company. They also offer $1,000 grants to ambitious entrepreneurs who have an idea and need capital, but are not necessarily ready to raise venture capital or an official round. They promise to Venmo over the $1,000 grant to anyone who they feel is working on something interesting that could become a company in the future, and many grant recipients have gone on to raise further capital with 1517 later on in their journey.
There are a number of other grants and opportunities which young entrepreneurs can leverage. Some of these are not specifically targeted towards younger innovators, although are still great opportunities for those interested:
- Emergent Ventures
- YC 120 (annual, event)
- The Interact Fellowship (annual, trip)
- Einstein Fellowship (university degree required)
- Davidson Fellowship
- The Knowledge Society (mentorship program, paid with financial aid available)
- Y Combinator (startup accelerator, funded many young entrepreneurs)
- Google Summer of Code
- The Shannon Fellowship (science-focused)
- NVIDIA Artificial Intelligence Residency program
- Apple WWDC Scholarship (for iOS development)
- Future Founders program
- UnCollege Gap Year (for entrepreneurs)
- On Deck Fellowship (location-based)
- Cincinnati-based grants
- Princes Trust (UK-based)
- Future Ready Fund (UK-based)
- Shell liveWire (investing in young entrepreneurs 16–30)
- Open-source grant list
- Gumroad Creators Fund
The grants and opportunities mentioned in this post are allow young entrepreneurs who are passionate about a particular subject matter to get access to the capital and mentorship they need in order to pursue their own track. These opportunities were all designed to help tap into the untapped talent around the world, so that all of the ambitious thinkers around the world can achieve their goals and work on issues that they are interested in.
The money raised from some of these grants has helped dozens of people from around the world explore their dreams and has been their stepping stone towards doing greater things. For those who are interested in pursuing a project in more depth, or are interested in following an unconventional path, these grants are a perfect fit.
If you are interested in non-technology grants, or are looking for summer programs, competitions, and other opportunities, this article covers more of these. Nayafia also explores both micro and smaller grants here. If you think I have missed anything, please reach out to me on Twitter @jamesg_oca.