Thiel fellow, 19, plans crowd-funding platform

schulerAt 19, James Schuler a veteran of startups
The $100,000 Thiel Foundation fellowship James Schuler just won allows young entrepreneurs to drop out of college to pursue their business ideas – except he never got there in the first place.

Before graduating from Byram Hills High School in Armonk, N.Y., last year, the 19-year-old co-founded a health care transaction smartphone application and website.

After graduation, he immediately entered Y-Combinator, a Silicon Valley startup incubator in which Schuler and his co-founders spent three months using a $170,000 grant to grow Eligible, the health care transaction company.

He resigned from active involvement with that company in August and already is on to his second venture, FundElevator.com, a crowd funding platform for political candidates and nonprofit organizations that will launch in a few weeks.

While at Y-Combinator, Schuler met Peter Thiel, a financier and co-founder of PayPal.com, who suggested he apply for the 2013 Thiel Fellowship class. The fellows are expected to pursue scientific and technological projects that will lead to innovative companies. They then will return to their studies after two years.

Announced May 9, Schuler is one of 22 young people who won the “20 under 20” Thiel Fellowships.

Schuler will travel to San Francisco on June 1 for the Under 20 Summit, where he will make a short speech and hold a breakout session for young entrepreneurs who want advice on their start-ups.

FundElevator.com will keep Schuler out of school for the next two years, though he doesn’t long for classrooms.

“What I taught myself outside of school was 10 times more important than what I ever learned in school,” said Schuler, a self-taught software programmer whose other high school passion was the pole vault.

The Thiel Foundation does not expect its fellows to produce quickresults, said Mike Gibson, vice president for grants. Even if Schuler’s venture fails, the foundation takes a long view.

“It’s really impressive that he has a track record of building things, and we expect him to continue doing that,” Gibson said.

Schuler said his goal for FundElevator.com is to give the electoral process back to ordinary citizens while providing the public a way to fund nonprofit organizations and candidates they support.

FundElevator.com was inspired by Kickstarter.com, a crowd funding website that does not allow donations for causes.

“I was on Kickstarter and I was kind of frustrated with politics, and I said, ‘Why can’t there just be a Kickstarter for politics where we could choose the leaders?’ ” Schuler said.

He said he’s already lined up charities and political candidates to use his service but would not disclose the clients ahead of the launch.

One challenge during the next two years will be driving traffic to FundElevator.com in order to generate donations that produce the website’s profit. Schuler said FundElevator .com will promote the site through public relations and other methods.

“If you don’t see a profit within two years, then you usually don’t have something people want,” Schuler said.

Still, Schuler’s not worried or nervous.

“If for whatever reason Fund Elevator fails … I just go on to a new company,” he said.

Source: Delaware online = Ernie Garcia The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal News

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