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Immigrant Entrepreneur Hall of Fame: Elon Musk

 

Elon Musk

Photo provided by Brian Solis, http://www.briansolis.com

Country of origin: South Africa

Year came to U.S.: 1992

Education: BS, Business and BS Physics, University of Pennsylvania

Businesses: PayPal (1999), SpaceX (2002), Tesla Motors (2003)

Headquarters: Palo Alto, CA (Tesla Motors)

2013 revenue:  $2.0 billion (Tesla Motors)

Employment: 5,859 (Tesla Motors)

 

  • Elon Musk was called one of the of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME and named the top business person of 2013 by Fortune.
  • Musk has made major contributions in the fields of information technology, space exploration and green technologies.

 

Elon Musk is a cutting-edge, serial entrepreneur born and raised in South Africa. A lifelong technologist and entrepreneur, he bought his first computer at age 10 and taught himself how to program it. He sold his first software program, a space game called Blastar, for about $500 when he was 12 years old.

Elon Musk and President Obama at Kennedy Space Center

President Barack Obama tours SpaceX launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center with CEO Elon Musk (right) April 15, 2010

Musk left South Africa at the age of 17 to avoid compulsory military service. In the book Rocketeers, Musk explained, “I don’t have an issue with serving in the military per se, but serving in the South African army suppressing black people just didn’t seem like a really good way to spend time.” After living near relatives in Canada, he came to the University of Pennsylvania on a scholarship where he received two degrees in business and physics. He chose to settle in the United States because, “It is where great things are possible. I am nauseatingly pro-American.”

In 1995, he started his first company called Zip2 with his brother. The company produced online content publishing software and was sold in 1999 to AltaVista for $341 million. Building on that success, Musk co-founded an online financial services company, X.com. After merging with Confinity (co-founded by immigrant entrepreneur Max Rafael Levchin), the name was changed to PayPal. In 2002, PayPal was acquired by eBay for $1.5 billion.

Musk did not waste any time founding his third company. Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) was launched in 2002 with $100 million of his own money to develop and manufacture space launch vehicles. After becoming the first commercial company in history to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station, SpaceX and was awarded a $440 million contract with NASA to develop the successor to the Space Shuttle and transport American astronauts into space. Musk views space exploration as important for ensuring the long-term viability of human life, and he continues to serve as the company’s CEO and CTO.

Tesla RoadsterHe also is deeply concerned about global warming. That concern led him to create the electric car company, Tesla Motors, invest in and serve as chairman of photovoltaics company, SolarCity, and become a trustee of the X Prize Foundation, which promotes renewable energy technologies. He provided almost all the capital for the first two rounds of funding of Tesla Motors where he remains the chairman, product architect and CEO. He has been compared to Henry Ford for his potential impact on the auto industry.

Updated June 2014

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