Immigrant Entrepreneur Hall of Fame: Elon Musk
Country of origin: South Africa
Year came to U.S.: 1992
Education: BS, Business and BS Physics, University of Pennsylvania
Headquarters: Palo Alto, CA (Tesla Motors)
2012 revenue: $413 million (Tesla Motors)
U.S. employment: 1,169 (Tesla Motors)
- Elon Musk was called “the most 21st-century entrepreneur on the planet” by Esquire and one of the of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME.
- 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.
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.
He 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.