How Zuck Inspired a Big Tech Winner to Give Sooner, Not Later

You could call him baby-Zuckerberg, but there’s nothing small about Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe’s first foray into philanthropy.  

Inspired by the Facebook CEO and philanthropist who made Iribe very, very wealthy, the virtual reality developer just gave $31 million to the computer science department at the University of Maryland. Iribe attended and dropped out of the school to become a software developer in gaming, his first company selling for a handsome sum. But he and cofounders really wowed the tech world by cashing in virtual reality company Oculus with Facebook for $2 billion in July. 

The CEO didn’t waste much time before starting to give away a chunk of his newfound fortune, making the sale just months ago and now making the largest gift in the university’s history.

“Mark Zuckerberg was a big inspiration for me personally on this. He’s an incredible person and incredible donator,” Iribe told TechCrunch.

Iribe considered  investing and getting into philanthropy later in life, but he saw how the Facebook CEO decided to jump right in and liked the idea. He also hopes the gift will nurture his field, as it will go mostly to the construction of a new computer science building, including study of virtual reality. Oculus breathed new life into the 3D, immersive computing that had mostly fizzled out in the 1990s.  

Related: Mark Zuckerberg's $2.5 Billion Foundation

He plans to be both a donor and a participant in the department, giving regular talks, hoping in part to get more people into the field that he believes is about to grow at an extremely fast rate. 

“What fun is it to make a donation at the end of your career,” Iribe told VentureBeat. “This way we get to make a bigger impact and participate in the success of this building. The name on the building isn’t going to be a deceased person, but someone who is still out there trying to pioneer this space.” 

There are a few other Oculus-related gifts happening at University of Maryland, including a $4 million gift from company cofounder and UMD grad Michael Antonov. Elizabeth Trexler, Iribe’s mother, is also giving $3 million to the school’s computer science department. And $1 million of Iribe’s gift will establish a scholarship in the name of Andrew Scott Reisse, Oculus cofounder who died last year. 

It will be interesting to see if Iribe is just heavily devoted to this project in Maryland, or if he plans to continue following in the Zuckerberg School of Philanthropy. The other thing that’s interesting about this gift is that, not only did it happen so quickly after the donor found tremendous wealth, it’s also very closely tied to his business and tech aspirations.

Rather than the old school approach of getting rich, retiring, and picking a cause you find compelling, this gift feels much more like an extension of Iribe’s particular brand of trying to shape the world with tech.