Earlier this year PayPal co-founder and early Facebook investor Peter Thiel’s started a program to invest money in college students to help them leave college and launch other projects. Called the 20 Under 20 program, Thiel’s project awards students $100,000 to pursue their own projects.
The Wall Street Journal’s Lizette Chapman interviewed one fellow, Andrew Hsu. According to Chapman:
After gaining the “20 Under 20” funding, Hsu has now scored a $1.5 million seed round for Airy Labs, which aims to revolutionize education and learning. Despite his hard-core academic pedigree, Hsu acknowledges that the hands-on experience of building a business teaches things school can’t.
Hsu is using his money to develop games for kids ages 5-13. As Hsu explains:
Games are an all-purpose medium. They can teach almost anything – math, language, economics, leadership, manners…anything. The best games are those that are easy to pick up, but hard to master.
But Hsu is perhaps a little unusual. While many criticize Thiel’s venture as anti-college—as one blogger at Tech Chunch wrote: “the message Thiel is sending to the world with his fellowship, which rewards students for dropping out of school, is wrong. The best path to success is not to drop out of college; it is to complete it”—Hsu’s actually already finished college. He earned a bachelor of science in neurobiology and biochemistry from the University of Washington when he was 16 (he was in a PhD program at Stanford before he got the fellowship).
But if Hsu serves as a poster boy for the sort of entrepreneur Thiel wants to develop, Hsu is curiously uninterested in any sort of education bubble discussion. Hsu, who was homeschooled, explains that “college is pretty much expected, but it will put you in severe debt. It’s a problem. That said, I’m not tackling higher education issues. I’m tackling learning.”
That’s right, higher education, at least the way we think of it now, is pretty far removed from actual learning. Hsu is building games to help people learn; he doesn’t care much about the institutions in which people also go to learn.