CropSafe co-founder John McElhone bags prestigious Thiel fellowship

13 Feb 2023

CropSafe founders John McElhone and Micheál McLaughlin. Image: CropSafe

Having founded CropSafe with Micheál McLaughlin in 2019, McElhone now joins the two-year training and mentorship programme launched by Peter Thiel.

John McElhone, co-founder of Northern Irish start-up CropSafe, is one of 20 entrepreneurs who have joined the Thiel Fellowship class of 2023.

Founded by billionaire tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel, the Thiel Foundation encourages talented young people with big ideas to start companies instead of attending college.

During the two-year fellowship programme, fellows receive $100,000 and mentorship from the foundation’s network of tech founders, investors and scientists. The only requirement is that fellows pause their college enrolment and focus exclusively on building their idea.

Previous fellows, a total of 251 so far, have included founders of big tech companies such as Embark, Ethereum, Figma, Luminar and Oyo. Since its launch more than a decade ago, the fellowship has been responsible for helping to found companies worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

“In a world where conformity rules, these young founders are setting out to reimagine every industry they touch,” said Brian Rowen, president of The Thiel Foundation.

“No goal is too ambitious. This year’s class is innovating in fields as varied as energy production, genetic testing, AI and agriculture.”

Simplifying data for farmers

CropSafe was founded by McElhone and Micheál McLaughlin in 2019 while they were still in secondary school in Magherafelt. McElhone told last year that the idea began as something that could be used by their neighbours and in their own farms.

“We realised there was a lot of this new software coming into the market for farmers,” said McElhone, who is now based in Los Angeles. “But nobody had a clue how to use all this new satellite imagery, all these graphing tools, it was data science tools for farmers.

“We wanted to build something that would basically simplify all this complicated data, and just tell farmers exactly what to do.”

The platform, which raised $3m in seed funding to expand in the last year, lets farmers create alerts and use real-time modules to monitor various topics that are important to their farm, from weather to crop health.

Conditions can be monitored remotely through CropSafe’s network of global weather stations and orbital satellites. Users can access data from the web or set up alerts from the CropSafe app.

McElhone’s entry into this fellowship programme is a big milestone for CropSafe, which continues its expansion in the US market.

“Young founders with radical projects know universities will only hold them back. More than a third of this year’s applicants never applied to college and instead are following their own path,” said Alex Handy, director of The Thiel Fellowship.

“Members of this year’s class are not preoccupied with chasing trends, whether in Silicon Valley or on TikTok. They are acting on concrete plans to improve the world around them.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic