Founders Fund opens nominations for $50,000 TechFellow Awards

Founders FundWhether it's a new investment tack or simply goodwill to the technology community in a down economy, early-stage venture capital firm Founders Fund is taking a unique approach to the tired award ceremony with TechFellow. Instead of celebrating a product or company, Founders Fund wants to draw attention to those behind the scenes who actually make the innovation happen.

12 fellows will be selected by a panel of 21 judges, which reads like a who's-who of Silicon Valley, including Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, LinkedIn's Reid Hoffman, Flickr's Caterina Fake, MySpace's Chris DeWolfe, former Yahoo CEO Terry Semel, Esther Dyson and Marc Andreesson, among others. Nominations (including self-nominations) will be accepted until May 8, with an awards dinner slated for June.

What does a TechFellow receive for his or her selection? Founders Fund will be providing the individual with $25,000 to invest in a startup of their choice, even if it's their own startup. The firm will also match that figure, bringing the total initial investment to $50,000. Founders Fund calls it "Genius Grants for Geeks," and will request the right to invest another $250,000 if the startup raises another round of capital.

In total, Founders Fund will be devoting up to $3.6 million to the TechFellow Awards. The initiative is being co-promoted by TechCrunch, which isn't contributing financially, but whose founder Michael Arrington will serve as one of the judges. Fellows will be selected based on four categories: engineering leadership, product design and marketing, general management and disruptive innovation.

I spoke to Founders Fund managing partner Sean Parker this afternoon, who was quick to note that the TechFellow Awards aren't really about the money, but about the people. The goal, Parker said, is to recognize the achievements of those who are often overlooked while CEOs and corporate identities receive all the praise (something which Parker -- who was involved in creating Napster, Plaxo and Facebook, but rarely shared the limelight -- knows all too much about). The grants are designed to encourage these individuals to innovate further with their own efforts, or invest in other early-stage ideas they support.

Founders Fund got started in 2005 by bringing together a small group who were at the forefront of technology and investing in companies they felt were on track to become future industry leaders. In a way, the firm is replicating that model with the TechFellow Awards, turning the innovator into the investor.

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