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Peter Thiel launches Breakout Labs to fund bold early-stage research

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Peter Thiel, the tech industry magnate known for co-founding PayPal and being an early investor in Facebook, on Tuesday launched a new program called Breakout Labs aimed at funding cutting-edge, early-stage science and technology research ideas.

Breakout Labs will be run as part of the Thiel Foundation, the non-profit organization founded by Thiel with a stated mission is to “defend and promote freedom in all its dimensions: political, personal, and economic.” Thiel announced the initiative Tuesday afternoon during a speech at Stanford University.

Breakout Labs will aim to fund very nascent research proposals — opportunities that are too early stage or radical to attract dollars from VCs or government grants. All types of scientific projects will be considered for support, and funding will typically range from $50,000 to $350,000. The Thiel Foundation says it has begun evaluating proposals and expects to announce the first awards as early as this December.

Peter Thiel (photo courtesy of The Thiel Foundation)

Lindy Fishburne, who will serve as Breakout Labs’ executive director, explained the program’s modus operandi with the following statement:

“Venture capital firms look for research that can be brought to market within five to seven years, and major funders like the National Institutes of Health have a low tolerance for radical ideas. At Breakout Labs, we’re looking for ideas that are too ahead of their time for traditional funding sources, but represent the first step toward something that, if successful, would be groundbreaking.”

Breakout Labs says it will be set apart from traditional research funds in part because the projects it funds will be entrepreneurial and not beholden to their funding organization. Money earned by successful projects will be expected to assign “a modest portion” of their revenue back to Breakout Labs, but will otherwise be free to run as a standalone business.

It’s a big effort, and it makes sense it’s coming from Peter Thiel, who himself is known for his bold ideas and a willingness to stand out from the crowd. Overall, it seems like Breakout Labs will be an exciting program to watch in the months — and maybe even years — ahead.

10 Responses to “Peter Thiel launches Breakout Labs to fund bold early-stage research”

  1. David Beins

    If Breakout Labs is as it seems, ie. a funder of innovation and taker of “a modest portion of revenue” (as opposed to half the company or such), it will provide a much needed fillup to entrepreneurs and business builders who would otherwise flounder for lack of resources at the critical ideas stage. However, while this is important it will not be sufficient to take those breakthrough concepts through to deployment for society’s ultimate benefit. Without follow-on funding and other long term support even the greatest ideas will be unable to overcome the many barriers that get in the way of what is a typically perilous journey to market.

  2. Women's Intel Agency

    I challenge Thiel to identify the tipping point globally and stand out and change the tide of all the global competition with planned obsolescence factoring into a relief economy, helping the World get out of debt, by starting a new competition of tech & products with planned longevity factoring.

  3. Mr Thiel, have correctly diagnosed a malaise common to much of the developed world. Technological progress is not the default state of human society. Our societies are shaped by the confluence of economic, social and biological incentives. Unfortunately, all of these incentives have been perverted in the past few decades to work against technological progress. What we face is an existential crisis: postmodern culture has begun destroying the very pillars which made industrial civilization possible.

    I have spent the last few months documenting the perverse social and biological incentives which ail western societies, while reading your work on our technological challenges. My conclusion is dire: we are caught in a perfect storm. Without strong leadership, I fear we may default to human society’s baser reality of subsistence survival in the absence of progress. The correct incentive structures must be put in place for us to return to past golden ages of technical success. It is naive to believe that great human achievements, such as the Apollo project, occurred without the right social, economic, and biological incentives. In that time period, everything in society rewarded contribution to NASA. Scientists were celebrated as heroes and had loving and stable families, while research funding was abundant. These factors were critical in creating man’s greatest technical achievements. As we stand today, every one of these pillars has been shattered. Family law is an engine of family destruction, society’s role models are the antithesis of scientists, and research funding is scarce. In this environment, it is unrealistic to expect any real progress. We need visionary leaders to reinstate these incentives and create that environment talented individuals desperately need to do their great work.

    It is clear to me, Mr. Thiel, that you have cultivated an enlightened sense of objective reality that is rare in this world. Furthermore, you have at your means the ability to make a difference. I pray that, for the sake of those who lack your power, you continue your noble quest. Humanity’s future depends on it.