This fall, 24 college students will leave their dorms and textbooks behind to spend the next two years working on their own start-ups. Each new company is receiving $100,000 from Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and an angel investor. Thiel made headlines last year when he announced he would fund a group of college start-ups, provided the students left school for two years. Here are a few of the young entrepreneurs who got the cash—and how their parents took the news.
Jim Danielson, 20
Project: Makt Systems
Jim Danielson got interested in electric motors in high school. Using a loan from his parents, he bought an old Porsche and altered the engine to run on electricity.
How he's using the money: To build a prototype of an electric motor that can be retrofitted into any car
Family's reaction: Two weeks before Danielson received the Thiel Fellowship, he broke the news to his parents that he had applied. His mother, Kim, was initially worried about a lack of structure. But after Danielson showed her his weekly plan for the first year of the program, she gave him her blessing. "This is something he's wanted for a long time," she says.
Eden Full, 19
Project: Roseicollis Technologies
In high school, Eden Full designed a solar panel that rotates to follow the sun's position in the sky. Last year, after receiving a grant from Princeton, she went to Kenya and installed the device in two villages.
How she's using the money: To move to San Francisco, recruit engineers, and partner with manufacturers
Family's reaction: "I am concerned, but this is Eden's passion," says Full's mother, Shelly. She hopes Full will return to college—and earn multiple degrees. "I've convinced myself this is the right decision, as long as she'll go back to school," she says.
Dale Stephens, 19
Dale Stephens left school after fifth grade to be "unschooled," a form of homeschooling that included interning at businesses. At college, Stephens was frustrated by what he calls "the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical education." He launched UnCollege.org as a resource to help students learn on their own.
How he's using the money: To promote UnCollege.org at conferences and colleges
Family's reaction: Despite Stephens's upbringing, his parents were stunned. "We were aiming for a traditional college path," says his mother, Lisa Nalbone. But her son's enthusiasm won her over.
Christopher Rueth, 17
Project: Internet censorship
In high school, Christopher Rueth published instructions for getting past the school's firewall, letting students visit any website. After Rueth was barred from using school computers, he transferred to a community college. There, he found a new passion: fighting global censorship.
How he's using the money: To buy technology that circumvents government firewalls
Family's reaction: "I'm a little apprehensive," says Rueth's father, Tim. But he thinks this will be a good learning experience. "And it will look good on his resumé," he says.