Two alumni receive $100,000 Thiel Foundation Fellowships

Thu, 2011-05-26 19:14 -- Reni Barlow

Facebook investor Peter Thiel's foundation has announced its inaugural class of 24 young innovators to receive grants of $100,000 - provided they leave school for two years. Two Youth Science Canada alumni - Eden Full and Gary Kurek - are the only Canadians.

The foundation named two dozen young entrepreneurs to the 20 Under 20 Fellowship, a philanthropic grant announced in September by Facebook investor and board member Peter Thiel. The Thiel Foundation intends to spur the creation of more innovative startups through a controversial means: getting more young people to explore alternatives to a post-secondary education.

The recipients - all younger than 20 years old at the end of 2010 - each will receive $100,000 and mentoring under the condition that they stay out of school for two years to build their businesses. The foundation said it expanded the list to 24 because it was "impossible to pick only 20" from among the pool of more than 400 applicants.

Calgary native, Eden Full will use her grant money to move to San Francisco in August and speed up the process of patenting and licensing her solar panel technology. The idea emerged in 2006 as her grade 9 science fair project, "The Nerdy Tree" in which she modelled a photovoltaic solar panel system on the morphology of the white spruce tree, based on the idea that trees were nature's best solar collectors. She picked up a silver medal and four special awards that year at the 2006 Canada-Wide Science Fair (CWSF) in Saguenay, Québec, and continued work on the idea, presenting at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair as a member of Team Canada-ISEF in 2007 and 2008, and then returning to the CWSF in 2009 to win bronze and silver medals in Engineering and Environmental Innovation.

Today, at 19, Full is the founder of Roseicollis Technologies, a solar energy start-up that deploys her patent-pending inventions in established and emerging markets. Currently electrifying two villages of 1000 citizens in Kenya, her SunSaluter is a solar panel rotating system that tracks the sun to optimize energy collection by up to 40 percent for only $10. Watch a video of Eden's TEDxYYC presentation:

Full says she plans to return to Princeton eventually to complete her degree in mechanical engineering. "When I come back, I will get a feel for why I am studying what I am studying," she says.

After graduating from high school last year, Gary Kurek - who lives on a buffalo ranch in Fort Kent,east of Edmonton Alberta - was offered a full engineering scholarship at the University of Calgary. Instead, he decided to take a year off and build his business, a maker of motorized walkers for the elderly called GET Mobility Solutions. Like Full, Kurek's ideas found recognition through the science fair program.

As a grade 8 student he designed "AWAPS", an automobile wildlife accident prevention system, which won him an Honourable Mention at the 2006 CWSF in Saguenay, but in the years that followed he turned his attention to improving mobility for seniors, inspired by his grandmother's cancer-induced weakness. From 2007 through 2009 Kurek developed a bolt-on kit for standard walkers that transformed them into an electric wheelchair, winning a CWSF bronze medal in 2007 and a silver medal in 2008. By 2009 he had refined his designs to the point that at the CWSF in Winnipeg he presented two novel mobility aids - a walker/electric wheelchair hybrid and a multifunctional manual/electric wheelchair - earning a gold medal, Platinum Award, and Best Project Award as the top young scientist in Canada.

Gary, now 19, is expanding the versatility of his mobility aids, making them lighter, foldable, and capable of navigating any home environment including staircases - and on making them a commercial success. Kurek plans to move to San Francisco in September and invest some of the $100,000 in testing and refining his walker product. Then he hopes to begin selling models to hospitals and assisted-care facilities.

Watch a video of Gary's interview at the 2010 Intel International Science & Engineering Fair:

The Thiel Foundation supports innovative scientific research and new technologies that empower people to improve their lives, champions organizations and individuals who expose human rights abuses and authoritarianism in all its guises, and encourages the exploration of new ideas and new spaces where people can be less reliant on government and where freedom can flourish. For more information, see ThielFoundation.org or 20under20.org.

Youth Science Canada congratulates Eden and Gary on this honour and wishes them all the best in their new endeavours.

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