One of the main reasons the space industry is pacing so rapidly today is that it is driven by private entrepreneurs united with passion and vision for advancing space exploration. Now that several private space pioneers have built successful companies, everyone seems to know their names. But there was a time when many believed the projects of Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Maxym Polyakov, and Elon Musk to be risky and unrealistic. Fortunately for space enthusiasts all over the world, the 21st-century space pioneers never gave up on their dreams and kept working to raise enough funds that would help them reach the stars, quite literally. Let’s see exactly what they managed to build world-know space tech businesses.
Today, Sir Richard Branson owns an entire business empire, which he started building at the age of 16. Back then, Branson started a successful magazine, Student, that interviewed celebrities. The first issue sold almost $8,000 worth of copies, and Branson, encouraged by such success, dropped out of school to keep growing his business.
Branson’s next brainchild was the first Virgin — a mail-order company selling records from the magazine premises. Two years later, in 1972, the company grew into an internationally recognized label Virgin Records. Together with stars like Ozzy Osbourne, The Rollings Stones, and many others, Virgin Records left its trace in the history of 20th-century music.
Yet, Branson kept expanding his Virgin trademark even further by founding 50+ different businesses, including Virgin Videos, Virgin Books, and many others. In two years, annual revenues from Virgin enterprises reached $17 million.
Still, Sir Richard did not plan to stop at the top and founded a luxury airline Virgin Atlantic. Now, he is already aiming for the stars via his aerospace compare Virgin Galactic, founded in 2004 with US engineer Burt Rutan. The company aims to offer affordable space tourism flights, and even though affordability is still in the works, Virgin Galactic is definitely moving forward in the tech aspect of its services.
Jeff Bezos is a perfect example of a successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur. He graduated from university with an engineering degree to work in major US companies, including IBM, Bankers Trust, and Andersen Consulting. That is where Jeff deepened his knowledge of finance and investment.
At the peak of the dotcom boom in 1993, Bezos got the idea of selling books online. Now, we all know how that turned out, but back in the 1990s, very few people believed Amazon would bring any profit. In just a year after making its first sale in 1995, the company reached a whopping $15.7 million in revenue. In 2017, Bezos took Amazon public, raising $54 million on the IPO deal.
Today, most of Bezos’ fortune comes from Amazon, and even though Jeff stepped down as the company CEO a few years back, he still controls 11% of the company shares. In net worth, his fortune is now estimated at $137.8 billion, so it’s no wonder Forbes listed Bezos as one of the wealthiest people for years in a row, from 2017 to 2021.
Now, Jeff Bezos is mostly focused on developing his aerospace company Blue Origin, investing around a billion dollars into the enterprise each year. In 2021, Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket took the first tourists to space, and Jeff Bezos, quite expectedly, was one of the first passengers to make the trip.
Paul Allen is mostly known as the co-founder of Microsoft Corporation, together with his school friend Bill Gates.
The business success story began when two university dropouts decided to adjust BASIC software for microcomputers; at the time, this software only worked with large devices. As we all know, it worked, which brought Gates and Allen a contract with MITS company. Soon enough, they started a company of their own, dubbing it Micro-Soft. Curiously, it was Allen who thought of the Microsoft name.
Sadly, Allen was soon diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease and stepped down as Microsoft’s technical executive in 1983. However, he remained on the company board of directors until 2000. During this time, Allen generously donated to charity, created a venture capital fund to research profitable investments, and purchased a baseball team.
In 2000, Paul Allen fully resigned from Microsoft Corporation and sold all of his company shares. He used this money to sponsor another dream by founding SpaceShipOne, the first private company to send manned crews to space. In 2011, Allen invested in another space venture, Stratolaunch Systems Corp, a company developing spacecraft to send satellites and, hopefully soon, people to space.
In 2018, Forbes estimated Paul Allen’s fortune at $20.3 billion, which made him the 44th wealthiest person worldwide at the time of his passing.
Today, Max Polyakov is one of the most influential space figures worldwide, having established and sponsored a string of successful companies. Max was born and raised in Ukraine in a family of aerospace engineers, which explains both his passion for space and talent for science.
Maxym Polyakov was still a student when he founded his first IT outsourcing company. Further, he scaled on this success by establishing a whole series of gaming, marketing, and dating sites.
In 2015, Polyakov brought all of his commercial websites under one management board when he co-founded the IDE Group. IDE Group already included established projects such as HitDynamics, Maxymiser, Murka, and Cupid. American Hitwise eventually purchased HitDynamics for $6 million. Maxymiser raised even more than that, $26 million, and was sold to Oracle Corporation in 2015. Cupid has grown into one of the largest international dating platforms after Maxym Polyakov made sure Cupid PLC went IPO in 2015. At the time, Polyakov was the first Ukrainian ever to list his tech company on London Stock Exchange.
With enough money raised to follow his space dreams, Maxym Polyakov, already a general partner in the Noosphere Ventures Partners investment fund, founded EOS Data Analytics in 2015. In 2017, he invested $200 million of his own money to purchase US rocket company Firefly out of bankruptcy. Rebranded as Firefly Aerospace, the company made the first fully successful Alpha rocket launch in October 2022. Now, Maxym Polyakov’s fortune is estimated at approximately $540 million.
Robert Bigelow is not the most well-known businessman on this list, but few space fans can doubt Bigelow’s enthusiasm for space exploration and technology. The entrepreneur started accumulating his fortune just after graduating from high school in the late 1960s. He started in the real industry and, until the 1990s, Bigelow was actively building a series of motels, hotels, and apartments. Soon enough, the aspiring space businessman built 15,000 real estate units and acquired another 8,000 to keep investing in space technology.
One of the first steps in Bigelow’s space plan was creating the National Institute for Discovery Science to study paranormal phenomena. Besides being a huge space enthusiast, Robert Bigelow also believed that aliens are already ‘under our noses.’
A few years later, he created Bigelow Aerospace, a company manufacturing expandable space station modules. He also planned to spend $500 million on the construction of the first commercial space station. And, when Robert Bigelow announced his plans to eventually launch a space hotel in the Earth’s orbit, nobody got surprised, considering his real estate experience and his passion for space technology.
Of course, no list of space entrepreneurs would be complete without Elon Musk, the most famous space tycoon today. Musk founded his first successful business along with his brother in 1995. The Global Link Information company, later renamed as Zip2, was an online searchable directory of local businesses. This website listed map locations with phone numbers and sold for $307 million to PC manufacturer Compaq Computer in 1999. The deal made 27-year-old Musk a millionaire, with $22 million to his name.
Right after that, young Musk founded an online finance service we now know as PayPal. After a merger with another corporation, Musk was asked to resign as company CEO. On the bright side, though, he received very significant compensation for his shares — $180 million.
In 2002, Elon Musk made one of his riskiest investments at the time, spending $100 million of his private funds to launch an aerospace company. Today, we all know how well SpaceX turned out.
Now that the space industry is led by private companies and funds, we can expect the space exploration pace to keep increasing. People like Elon Musk, Paul Allen, and Maxym Polyakov have already played a great part in today’s space tech development. No doubt, investing in space technology requires great money and an even greater passion for risking millions of dollars on projects that may not pay out. Yet, thanks to people like these, our chances of becoming a space-faring civilization are drawing ever closer.