Tim Draper is third in a line of legendary venture capitalists. Tim is the founder of the global leading venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson. Draper invested in and contributed to the development of Skype, Baidu, Overture, Parametric Technology, Hotmail, Tumbleweed Communications, PLX Technologies, Digidesign, Preview Travel, Four11, Combinet, and Redgate, among others.
He recently started the Draper University of Heroes. Founded from a believe that – what the world really needs – are entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs who are not afraid of attacking the large challenges of our society/world. And the current education system is not helping in delivering them.
“Education has to think about renovating itself,” Draper says. “People are concerned about cost, how long it takes, and how unprepared graduates are when they get to the workforce. Training has been so rote, that it rarely prepares people for the unexpected, for change, for experimentation.”
It’s this belief that led to the formation to Draper University of Heroes, “an immersive boarding school in San Mateo, California for students 18-26 years old, dedicated to encouraging proactive entrepreneurship.” The University of Heroes just began its second eight week session last week, following a pilot session that kicked off in June of last year.
The $7,500 entrepreneurial crash course attracted 41 students eager to listen to lectures sitting in bean bag chairs, not desks, to play volleyball with two balls, rather than one, to learn as much about urban survival as they do about reading financial statements, and to eschew discussions of history for those of the future.
“Everyday is different, they get hit from all sides,” Draper says. “We change the rules of every game they’ve ever played. As an educator, I think you’re far better off encouraging people’s curiosity and stretching their limits.”
While the super hero branding might be a bit cliche, it’s core to Draper’s vision of challenging people to think big, ignore societally imposed limits, and change the world. This is the kind of run-into-the-fire thinking, he says, that was required of Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, and even Thomas Jefferson. But it’s not being taught in traditional schools, either at the K-12 or university level.
“Too many schools don’t have the confidence to do the whimsical,” Draper says. “They’re afraid to teach science fiction, in conjunction with predictive analytics, and to ask what’s next. Schools are all about to being comfortable – teachers are on on tenure, teaching the same thing every year, which is unacceptable in changing world.”
Draper U is not meant to be a replacement for higher education – yet. At just eight weeks, it’s designed to be a supplement. But like other alternative education programs from Khan Academy, Coursera, CodeAcademy, and the Minerva Project, among others, many are looking to the University of Heroes as a prototype for what the future of education will look like.
Dean James Ellis of the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business recently visited the school looking for ideas to emulate back on his traditional campus, as did CalArts president Dr. Steven Lavine, according to Draper. Whether we’ll see any USC Trojan MBAs practicing archery or juggling while giving a powerpoint presentation remains to be seen.
One thing that USC and nearly every other university around the country should pay close attention to is Draper’s University Collective accelerator, which is run in conjunction with his son Adam Draper’s Boost VC. As we’ve addressed previously, university accelerators tend to fall woefully short. With three generations of Silicon Valley venture capital experience baked into Draper U, and Adam’s Boost acceleratory now on its third private accelerator class, expect the University Collective to better manage the inherent disconnect between education and free market capitalism than most.
The University of Heroes is not a philanthropic endeavor. Draper expects the school to break even, at minimum, and keep its doors open on its own “free market merits.” Which brings us back to the $7,500 tuition. At this rate, the school is not for the disadvantaged. And that’s part of the problem.
For Draper University of Heroes to have a massive impact, it needs to figure out a way to amplify its message to reach more than 300 kids per year, and to deliver that message across the socioeconomic spectrum. Draper, however, is counting on these graduates to take the school’s doctrine back to their traditional universities and into their communities and future companies where the impact can be magnified.
In an effort to expand the applicant pool, Draper allows students to pledge the university 2 percent of their income over the next 10 years in lieu of tuition, or, in true Valley dealmaking style, to propose an alternative arrangement. One such arrangement which the school accepted was to put its logo on the body of a student’s race car following his graduation.
Education is one of Draper’s primary area of investment focus, with his central belief being that in the future education will become far more of a meritocracy powered by technology – and is placing bets in areas that make this future a reality. For example, Draper believes that the most extraordinary teachers will one day focus on a single area of deep domain expertise – he offered the example of long division – and will be streamed into (physical or virtual) classrooms around the world to teach that single subject. The teacher in the classroom then becomes the tutor, rather than the primary instructor.
“We’re betting on efficiency in education, but I think there still has to be a human component,” Draper says.
Draper began dabbling in education in 1997 with BizWorld, a nonprofit founded with his then ten year old daughter Jesse to teach elementary school aged kids about business. In 2000, he was a primary force behind Proposition 38, a California school voucher initiative into which he invested $16 million of his own money fighting a losing battle against teachers unions. In the years since, Draper has been perpetually searching for ways to improve entrepreneurial education. It wasn’t until he purchased the aging landmark Benjamin Franklin hotel in San Mateo in 2011 that he – with some prodding from his eldest son Adam – arrived at the idea of building Draper University.
Given the superheroes themes, Draper’s regular use of words like whimsical, and its curriculum Draper University of Heroes appears to have more in common with Harry Potter’s Hogwarts than it does with anything seen in traditional education. But then again, that’s the point. After graduation, students receive a CA, or change agent degree, as well as instructions to go out into the world and be exactly that.
“People that enter the world with a CA from Draper U will be more qualified than most university graduates,” Draper says. “There will be plenty of companies that will want to hire them, but mark my words, they will be the ones doing the majority of the hiring.”
(adapted from this article)