PayPal founder speaks at BASES kickoff event

Oct. 26, 2011, 2:40 a.m.

Speaking Tuesday evening at The Business Association of Stanford Entrepreneurial Students (BASES) kickoff event for this year, entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel B.A. ’89 JD ’92 compared video games to pharmaceuticals and referred to the higher education system as “the only bubble that’s left.”

“If video games were held to the same standards as drugs,” the founder of PayPal said, referring to the rigorous clinical trials required for FDA approval of pharmaceuticals, “we would have no video games.”

The theme of Monday evening’s discussion was, “Has innovation stalled?”

Thiel, an early angel investor in Facebook, also spoke at last year’s BASES event once before, last year’s kickoff.

This time around, the organization aimed to make the event more interactive, said BASES co-president Charles Naut ’12.

The student group structured the talk as a debate and crowd sourced the panel. In the weeks leading up to the event, attendees had the opportunity to post their questions to Thiel online. From those who submitted questions, three panelists were selected to meet Thiel personally and join him onstage for a debate moderated by Naut.

The topics discussed by the panel included the slowing pace of innovation, the role of traditional education and the fostering of innovation in the developing world. Thiel is known for often presenting controversial ideas relating to these topics.

Thiel’s comment on the education “bubble” was inspired his observations of tuition prices spiraling out of control and a pervasive social pressure to funnel children through the credentialing process of traditional higher education.

When asked what he thought education might look like after the bubble breaks, he said that it will “become less important. [People will realize] maybe they didn’t need quite as much as they thought.”

Thiel, a fervent libertarian, also spoke about how the most regulated industries — aerospace, agriculture and pharmaceuticals — have seen the least innovation, while the unregulated Internet has been booming.

Thiel left the audience with a parting message: “Humans can think about and affect the future.”

He encouraged attendees to stop thinking about where they will be in the next six months to three years. Instead, he encouraged the audience to think 30 to 60 years ahead and beyond.

Comparing this year’s event to last year’s, Naut said audience members were more familiar with Thiel. They were “more used to his ideas,” he said.

Naut said the unconventionality of Thiel’s ideas led BASES to bring the speaker back for a second round.

With this event, the BASES calendar is officially under way for the school year. Other BASES events for the year will include the weekly Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders (ETL) speaker series, a collaboration with the Stanford Technology Ventures Program (STVP) that has in the past brought the likes of Jack Dorsey and Aneesh Chopra to campus and Y Combinator Startup School, a one day seminar aimed at encouraging potential founders.

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