Today’s space industry is led not only by government agencies with enormous budgets. In fact, the New Space age is primarily driven by private funds and entrepreneurs passionate about space exploration. Many space giants we follow on social media today were born into ordinary families, gradually building their way to success. Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Max Polyakov, Elon Musk — all of these people invested time and effort into seemingly risky projects that eventually paved their way to the stars. Want to know exactly how the famous space visionaries got started? Then keep on reading.
Jeff Bezos made his fortune in a typical Silicon Valley way. He graduated from the University with an engineering degree and worked for several major US tech corporations, including IBM, Bankers Trust, and Andersen Consulting.
During the dot-com boom in 1993, Bezos got the idea of opening an online store that would sell books from his garage. Obviously, very few people believed in the success of such an endeavor at the time. Still, Amazon did sell its first book in 1995, and just one year later, the site sold $15.7 million worth of merchandise. In 2017, the entrepreneur took Amazon public, raising $54 million on IPO.
Today, Jeff Bezos’ net worth is estimated at $137.8 billion, and most of this wealth comes from Amazon. And even though he retired as the company CEO, Bezos still owns 11% of all Amazon shares.
Still, Jeff’s primary passion is space, which is why he actively engages in developing his other company, Blue Origin. Every year, Bezos invests $1 billion into Blue Origin and space exploration. In 2021, the billionaire joined a crew of first orbital tourists who went to space onboard the Blue Origin New Shepard rocket.
Elon Musk is one of the most famous entrepreneurs today, and even people who do not follow space news know about SpaceX. However, Musk’s first success also emerged during the dot-com wave.
In 1995, Musk and his brother started a Global Link Information company, later rebranded as Zip2. This was a searchable online directory, similar to Yellow Pages. The site included a list of local businesses with phone numbers and map locations. PC-maker Compaq Computer purchased Zip2 for $307 million in 1999, making 27-year-old Elon Musk a millionaire with $22 million dollars to his name for the 7% of sold company shares.
Musk did not stop there and started another online company — this time, in the finance niche. Eventually, it went through a merger and got transformed into PayPal as we know it today. Even though Musk was forced to resign from the CEO position, the compensation was fair — $180 million.
The story of SpaceX began in 2002 when Musk invested $100 million of his own funds to launch a private aerospace business. Clearly, the investment was well worth it.
Paul Allen is mostly known as a co-founder of Microsoft Corporation, along with his school friend Bill Gates. However, Allen’s professional career has even more impressive achievements.
It all started when Allen and Gates dropped out of University to adapt the BASIC software to microcomputers, which was used only on large devices at the time. As we all know, they succeeded, which secured aspiring tech giants a contract from MITS company. Shortly afterward, Gates and Allen established their own company, originally spelled Micro-Soft. On a side note, it was Paul Allen who came up with Microsoft name.
Allen resigned as Microsoft tech officer in 1983, several years after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. However, he kept his position on the company’s board of directors, which brought him enough money to buy a baseball team, generously donate to charity, and even create his own venture fund to expand the investment network.
In 2000, Allen resigned from the Microsoft board of directors as well and sold all of his company shares. Paul used the money to sponsor his dream of space, investing in SpaceShipOne, which soon became the first private spacecraft to reach space with a manned crew onboard. In 2011, he founded Stratolaunch Systems Corp., a company sending satellites and, one day, people to space.
Paul Allen’s estimated worth at the time of his passing reached $20.3 billion, making him the 44th richest person in the world, according to Forbes in 2018.
Robert Bigelow may not be as famous as other entrepreneurs on this list, but he is an unquestionable example of a space enthusiast. In one of his interviews, Bigelow shared that his main goal for going into the real estate business was to make money to invest in space technology later. He achieved both, building a series of hotels and apartments from the late 1960s till the 1990s.
First, Bigelow used his real estate profits to create National Institute for Discovery Science, aimed at studying paranormal phenomena. The decision stemmed from the businessman’s utmost conviction that aliens are among us even now.
A few years after that, Robert invested in Bigelow Aerospace, a company manufacturing expandable modules for the space station. But the entrepreneur’s dreams went beyond that, and Bigelow planned to invest another $500 million into building the first-ever private space station.
Robert Bigelow’s prior real estate experience did leave a trace, so when the entrepreneur announced his plans to build an inflatable hotel in orbit, people saw it as a logical continuation of his legacy.
One more world-class space entrepreneur, Max Polyakov, was born and raised in Ukraine. This, however, did not stop him from becoming one of the top 100 wealthiest men on Earth, accumulating a fortune of $540 million by 2021.
Passion for space and technology has always been one of Max Polyakov’s primary drivers. Growing up in a family of Soviet aerospace engineers in one of Ukraine’s major space hubs, the future entrepreneur inherited not only passion but also talent and skill for science. Polyakov founded his first company, outsourcing software services when he was still a student. After raising enough money, he scaled the project even further, establishing a string of successful IT businesses in gaming, marketing, and online dating.
In 2005, Max Polyakov co-founded IDE Group, bringing several IT companies, including Murka, Cupid, Maxymiser, and HitDynamics, together. Just a few months later, the latter was acquired by a US company Hitwise for $6 million. In 2015, Maxymiser raised another $26 million and was sold to Oracle Corporation. Cupid eventually became a major international dating network, and in 2010, Cupid PLC went IPO on London Stock Exchange, making Polyakov the first Ukraine-born tech entrepreneur with a company listed in London. Just a year later, Cupid brought $83 million in revenue.
With enough money to pursue space, Polyakov founded EOS Data Analytics (Earth Observing Systems) company through his investment fund Noosphere Ventures Partners. In 2017, he invested $200 million into US company Firefly Aerospace. The Alpha rocket made its debut launch, which ended in anomaly, in 2021, but a year later, in October 2022, Alpha reached orbit.
Sir Richard Branson is one of the wealthiest and most influential entrepreneurs today. He started even earlier than most people on this list, at the age of sixteen. His Student magazine, which interviewed celebrities, made a profit from advertising, earning almost $8,000 with its first issue.
In 1969, Branson got the idea to use his magazine office as the mail-order record business. That is how the world-famous Virgin came to life. Branson used the first Virgin profits to go even further and established a recording company Virgin Records in 1972. Eventually, it became one of the top recording studios worldwide, working with Ozzy Osbourne, The Rolling Stones, and many other brands that made music history in the 20th century.
Later, Sir Richard kept expanding his Virgin network, launching Virgin Video, Virgin Books, and plenty of other enterprises. In two years, he built over 50 different businesses that brought over $17 million dollars in revenue every year.
But Richard Branson kept aiming higher and higher, which is how he launched Virgin Atlantic — a luxury airline with the highest quality of onboard service. Then, in 2004, he decided to go beyond our planet’s atmosphere and founded Virgin Galactic. Now, Branson is working towards offering affordable space tourism flights, and even though there is some obvious tech progress in this area, the ticket prices are sadly not for everyone’s pocket just yet.
Even though today’s space industry is mostly led by private companies instead of state agencies, it is still a very costly and risky undertaking not everyone is willing to invest in. Thanks to people like Paul Allen, Max Polyakov, Richard Branson, and many other space enthusiasts worldwide, we’ve seen an unprecedented peak in space technology development. More importantly, most people on our list do not plan to stop any time soon, so the next few decades promise lots of excitement for all space fans out there.
Jason is the Marketing Manager at a local advertising company in Australia. He moved to Australia 10 years back for his passion for advertising. Jason recently joined BFA as a volunteer writer and contributes by sharing his valuable experience and knowledge.