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Hamed '14 Selected for Prestigious Thiel Fellowship

By Sabrina A. Mohamed, Crimson Staff Writer

A computer science concentrator and Harvard Innovation Lab regular, Zachary Hamed ’14 has been selected as one of 22 2013 Thiel Fellows. The fellowship awards $100,000 to 22 young people from the ages of 17-20 to continue entrepreneurship projects related to science and technology.

“Hearing back from [the Thiel Fellowship] was so exciting,” Hamed said. “It’s very competitive and the other students who were out there are brilliant.” Hamed, an inactive Crimson news editor, will spend at least two years away from the College working with an established network of mentors that extends into Silicon Valley.

Created by Peter A. Theil, the founder of PayPal and one of the first investors in Facebook, the fellowship pays students to leave college and start their own companies.

The son of an elementary school teacher and a computer programmer, Hamed hopes to apply his computer science skills and vested interest in education to design tools to enrich K-12 teaching and learning. Hamed said that he is currently focusing on a project that would provide teachers with supplemental income.

“Teachers are underpaid given the importance of their jobs, and how much time they spend in the classroom,” he said. “It might be cool for regular people to back teachers and incentivize them to achieve those milestones in their classroom.”

The idea stemmed from conversations that he initiated with current and former teachers, among them classmates from a course that he took at the Graduate School of Education last year.

At the College, Hamed devotes much of his time to developing ideas at the i-lab. His mentors said that they are proud and eager to see the results of his entrepreneurial ambitions.

“He’s extremely talented, and he’s got a level of start-up acumen and maturity that is special given his stage in his career,” said i-lab Director Gordon S. Jones.

Hamed’s past projects have included an iPhone application that allows teachers to scan the barcodes of books to determine reading levels for their students and an app that he likened to TurboTax for financial aid.

Hamed credited CS50 and Hack Harvard—a January Term program where students workshop computer science projects—with being his first exposures into entrepreneurship on campus.

“Entrepreneurship and start-ups are the only sector where somebody can come in and be 20 years old...and try to be taken seriously,” Hamed said.

Jones said that Hamed is part of a select group of students who he credits with giving the i-lab its cohesive University character. Hamed built a check-in system that is currently used within the center.

“We’ll miss having Zach around the i-Lab because he’s got such a great personality, and he’s always cheerful, and he brings a joy to us,” said Neal A. Doyle, i-lab coordinator.

—Staff writer Sabrina A. Mohamed can be reached at smohamed@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter at @sab_mohamed.

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