The only two young entrepreneurs from Quebec in the Thiel Fellowship say the province’s largest city is an ample breeding ground for more young minds walking in their footsteps.
Simon Tian, the creator of the Neptune Smartwatch, was the first Quebec entrepreneur to be chosen as a Thiel Fellow last year. Just a few weeks ago Retinad cofounder Samuel F. Poirier was named one of 29 new members into the 2016 class of Thiel Fellows.
Tian told MTLinTECH that the province of Quebec is “definitely” a place that’s generating more Thiel-quality young founders.
“There’s a very healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem that’s forming in Montreal,” said Tian. “Samuel is a good example. He’s one of many young people in Montreal who have big passion, ambition and work ethic. There’s at least half a dozen people here my age that I know have similarly big ambitions in life. Montreal has a good infrastructure for new startups, there’s good accelerators, a good VC community and I think it’s going to foster great entrepreneurs in the future.”
Tian was a 2015 Thiel Fellow. The fellowship provides young people with $100,000 to “learn by doing rather than by following conventional paths” like university.
This year’s cohort, which Poirier was a part of, was selected from more than 6,000 applications received from around the world.
“I never thought I would get it. I’m still surprised I was selected, to be honest with you, because the quality of people there is so insanely high,” Poirier said. “I thought I would never have a chance with the thousands of people who applied. And even when I went to the summit with 40 other people I still didn’t think I would get it.”
Maybe the Retinad cofounder is being modest. Retinad is vying to be the world leader in virtual reality (VR) analytics. It’s Unity plugin works with all major VR headsets, tracking user data via heat maps.
He started his first profitable company at 14, raised close to a million dollars at 18 to create the first debit card for Bitcoin and cofounded Retinad at 21.
His first company was fascinating, to say the least. Poirier cut out the middle man in buying and selling precious minerals. He imported minerals from several mines across the world, had them cut in another locale and he’d import them to Montreal where he’d to local buyers. At 18, he founded his Bitcoin debit card company with the founder of Mt. Gox, the leading Bitcoin exchange at the time.
“In the past few years we’ve seen a dramatic change in the way young people approach their potential,” said Jack Abraham, Executive Director of the Thiel Fellowship. “Many are applying to the program with one or two companies already under their belts—they’ve become successful founders before they can even buy a beer.
According to Business Insider, the 80 current and former Thiel Fellows have raised over $142 million in venture capital and created at least $41 million in revenue.
Thiel Fellows receive mentorship and guidance from current and former fellows, as well as from the Thiel Foundation’s network of technology entrepreneurs, investors, and scientists. Tian and Poirier will get to attend events in San Francisco and will be just a phone call away from big name contacts for quite some time. The benefits will be plentiful, said Poirier.
“It gives you rocket fuel because people that see that thing under your name and they know that you have access to all those big connections,” he said.
Poirier had no trouble dropping out of school. He hadn’t been in class for over a year since he was studying a range of topics at Concordia University.
For Tian, he didn’t even make it to university. He was still at Marianopolis CEGEP college when he dropped out in 2013, not even 19 years old. It was continue Neptune or stay in school, and Tian said he couldn’t do both.
The young entrepreneur said he takes a lot of pride in being a Thiel Fellow.
“It’s a good brand to be attached to. Peter was the first outside investor in Facebook and was also part of the Paypal Mafia. It’s definitely a big deal to be associated with that kind of prestige. I’m very honoured,” he said.