Irish teenager Tom McCarthy a Pioneer programme winner

Winning projects get $7,000 in funding, a round trip to Silicon Valley and the mentorship of experts

Tom McCarthy: “As part of your induction into the Pioneer winners’ groups you have group calls with other Pioneer winners”

Tom McCarthy: “As part of your induction into the Pioneer winners’ groups you have group calls with other Pioneer winners”

 

Irish teenager Tom McCarthy has been named a winner of the Pioneer tournament, the first Irish person to scoop a top prize in the event, with his “Hogwarts for Irish teenagers”.

The Pioneer programme, founded by Israeli entrepreneur Daniel Gross in 2018, is an online tournament that invests in “ambitious people working on interesting projects”.The projects can be in any field – physics research, journalism, arts – with the key goal to convince other participants that it is worth backing.

The premise behind the programme is to “increase the number of Einsteins, Marie Curies, and Ramanujans in the world”, providing a cheap and scalable intervention to help people achieve their goals.

The winning projects get $7,000 in funding, a round trip to Silicon Valley and the mentorship of experts that include Stripe co-founder Patrick Collison, Longevity Fund founder Laura Deming and US economist Tyler Cowen, as well as access to the network of previous Pioneer winners.

Mr McCarthy’s winning project was Patch, a summer accelerator for teenagers interested in technology, science and engineering based in Dogpatch. The eight-week, all-expenses-paid programme in Dublin takes 12 participants and has them form teams to work on new technology-focused projects.

This was Mr McCarthy’s third attempt at entering the Pioneer tournament, and his most successful.

Although the funding and flights to Silicon Valley are welcome, Mr McCarthy said that for him the most important part of the programme was the mentoring and access to like-minded individuals.

“The major benefit of Pioneer is the peers. I don’t think that is necessarily easy to find,” he said, describing access to the Pioneer peer group as “a hidden benefit”.

“As part of your induction into the Pioneer winners’ groups you have group calls with other Pioneer winners. It’s a very special group of people that are interested in each other’s projects.”

Among the other winners are 18-year-old Arun Johnson, who is studying new nuclear fusion materials; Ahmed Moselhi (17) and Cameron Kerr (15) who are using artificial intelligence to personalise immunotherapy drugs; and Sarah Oh (36), who is working on digital infrastructure for the radio spectrum markets.

Mr McCarthy’s previous projects include building a nuclear fusion reactor in his back garden, a project he began at 13 years old and planned to complete withing five to six months, with the goal of breaking a world record. However, the project instead took a couple of years, and is currently in his father’s studio in Co Mayo.