Peter Thiel
Peter Thiel
Organization: Thiel Fellowship

The 44-year-old billionaire, PayPal founder, and Facebook (FB) investor's Thiel Fellowship program, currently in its second cycle, is giving $100,000 apiece to about 20 people -- all under the age of 20 -- to research and develop their tech ideas. The fellows, whose interests range from biotechnology to energy to robotics, are also given access to bigwig Silicon Valley mentors.

The catch? The participants can't be enrolled in college for the fellowship's two-year duration. Libertarian-minded tech entrepreneur Thiel may have a BA and a law degree from Stanford (and he recently taught a class at his alma mater), but he's encouraging promising youngsters to go the Gates-Jobs-Zuckerberg route. These famous dropouts are testaments to the fact that if you're really, really good, you don't need to sit through years of lectures to make it big.

  @FortuneMagazine - Last updated August 10 2012 02:20 PM ET
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