• Claire Coder

How I Became a Thiel Fellowship Recipient

As a “top-performing” high school student in Toledo, Ohio, it was assumed I would be going to college. After all, “the only way to be successful was to get a college degree.”

While I heard stories of the tech giants that had dropped out of college, it was all so far away… and everyone that was ‘successful’ without a degree seemed to be male.

I didn’t feel that college was for me. Thus, I would spend hours researching “alternatives to college.”

I ultimately stumbled upon the Thiel Fellowship. As a gal from Ohio, far removed from Silicon Valley/VC culture, this fellowship was not just a “stamp of approval,” it was my way out of the system.

$100,000 to NOT go to college and pursue my dreams of changing the world? Legendary.

I was a sophomore in high school when I submitted my first application. At the time, I owned a relatively small button company. I personally designed, pressed and sold buttons, magnets, and compact mirrors. While I didn’t have a “big vision,” I had real revenue.

I didn’t receive the fellowship that year, but that didn’t stop me. At the time, I was 15 and I had 7 more years until I was no longer eligible due to the age restriction of 23 years old.

I applied again.

And again.

And again.

Every year, my button company grew, but my odds of receiving the award did not.

I eventually went to college disdainfully.

After just 1 semester, I dropped out (before getting the fellowship).

I set my sight on disrupting the menstrual product space, founding Aunt Flow.

I continued to apply and at age 18, I received my first “interview” for the fellowship. This consisted of a free trip to San Francisco (the first time I traveled west of Indiana).

While I believed that I crushed the interview and created lifelong friendships, I didn’t get the fellowship.

I continued to apply, but it wasn’t until I was 22 that I secured an interview again.

That was the year that I received the phone call that I was awarded the fellowship.

By this time, I didn’t really even “need” the money and had already been 3 years removed from college.

I don’t know why I received the fellowship that year, compared to others. What worked for me was persistence.


I am exceptionally remarkable at just one thing, persistence, and I believe that is the most important thing to be remarkable at.