Silicon Valley Gets Its Own Hogwarts Academy

What is Tim Draper, mildly famous for wearing a Captain America costume on the cover of a magazine, doing with $15.5 million of property in downtown San Mateo? Building a school for entrepreneurs. I mean, heroes.

Students repeating their daily "hero pledge."

Next January, around 100 people will stream out into downtown San Mateo, the launching pad for YouTube and other legendary start-ups. They will look like ordinary business school geeks or Steve Jobs-venerating designers, but they know the truth. They are heroes.

How do they know? They will be the first complete graduating class of Draper University's School for Heroes.

The nascent institution, founded and bankrolled by investor Tim Draper, will open its doors in early 2013. Its mission, broadly defined, reflect the interests of its creator, who is no stranger to a superhero costume. Draper is best known as an early force at Hotmail who became a backer of Skype, Tesla and other companies, and created the term "viral marketing." He is not without his critics (a co-founder of Hotmail has gone on record as stating that Draper exaggerates his claim to be "the founder of viral marketing") and he comes from a family of performers — his sister is actress Polly Draper and his daughter Jesse is the star of "The Valley Girl Show." (That's a talk-show-like web production in which the younger Draper puts pink feather boas around guests. She recently got Dropbox founder Drew Houston to drop an empty cardboard box as a gag. Draw your own conclusions.)

According to a San Jose Mercury News story, at Draper University, students recite a "hero pledge" every morning before embarking on a curriculum filled with field trips to successful start-ups like Tesla and viewings of movies like Risky Business. (The pledge begins "I will promote freedom at all costs...I will do everything in my power to drive, build and pursue progress and change. My brand, my network, and my reputation are paramount.") Draper has purchased three buildings for $15.5 million to use as a campus.

The details of what defines "superhero" still remain vague, but a promotional video offers some clues. It is replete with shots of go-kart races, a slide with the word "disruption" on it, yoga, Shawn Fanning and two men on a bike pedaling furiously while being chased by a cop car. And if the idea seems fanciful, the price is not. Draper has said that a term at the school would cost "what Stanford charges" — and Stanford's business school runs upwards of $18,000 per semester.

Unfortunately for FWD, the students' June introductory session wrapped up before we could see the school for ourselves — but we did get to interview Draper.

What was the inspiration for the school? How long has it been in development?

It was a flash mob in my head. Happened very fast and, like all great works of art, just came out on to the canvas. For the record, my son, Adam came up with the original idea.

Who will be instructors? How many students will be in the first graduating class?

We have had our pilot with 40 students. We will double or triple that for the first class in January. The pilot was 4 weeks. The school will be 10 weeks. Instructors are inspirational leaders out of industry. More people who live and breathe what they preach than people who teach for a living.

What kind of degrees will be offered? Do you have any syllabi yet you could send to me?

Some schools are hoping to offer credit for the 10 week period. It would be the equivalent of going abroad for a quarter.

How much will it cost?

We think we will ultimately charge what Stanford charges for a quarter. A little less for the first session.

Is it designed to be a year-round institution or summers? Will you pursue official accreditation?

It will run year round, but students will come for a quarter. I currently see no benefit to pursuing accreditation. The best high schools in the country are not accredited.

Obviously, there's a diverse range of views on what kind of education is needed in the tech economy. What do you think the Draper University can add to existing programs?

Our goal at Draper University is to make people better people. We hope they will pursue great missions with their lives.

Why "superheroes"? What is the full pledge?

Superheroes inflame the imagination. People who think "superhero: think anything is possible. You will have to come to a session to hear the full pledge.

What did you learn from this summer's session about what works and what doesn't?

It all seemed to work. We were blown away. It is a new model for education. Much more participative and group-oriented, and people seemed to take to it.

What do you hope students will take from this? What kind of jobs does Draper prepare people for?

Draper University prepares students to create their own paths. Create their own jobs.



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