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

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.