Laura Deming, 24, is the Pioneer adviser for projects in the science of longevity. While being home-schooled in New Zealand, Ms. Deming became fascinated with research into extending life spans. She sent an email to Cynthia Kenyon, a researcher in the biology of aging at the University of California, San Francisco. Eventually, Ms. Deming’s persistence led to an invitation to work in the San Francisco lab. She was 12 years old.
At 14, Ms. Deming became a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Two years later, encouraged by a grant from the Thiel Foundation, she dropped out of M.I.T. and founded a venture capital firm that invests in life-extension technology. Her Longevity Fund has raised $27 million so far.
As an adviser, Ms. Deming brings expertise in her field. “But from my own experience, I also think it’s important to have role models to encourage you and show you there are different paths to success,” she said.
The winners of the monthly tournament will receive $5,000 grants and plane tickets to San Francisco. They will stay for a week or more, meeting with each other, the advisers and others in the Bay Area.
Pioneer, Mr. Gross acknowledged, is an experiment that will start small. The first group, he said, will probably be six to 12 people. A new group of pioneers will be admitted each month, and, if successful, Mr. Gross said, could eventually increase to hundreds a month.
The several million dollars to sustain Pioneer for its first year have come from Stripe, an online payments processing start-up, and the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, who grew up in a small town in Wisconsin and co-founded Netscape, which introduced the first successful web browser, when he was 22.