NET WORTH: $20.6 billion
SOURCE OF WEALTH: PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla Motors
FUNDING AREAS: Energy, Environment, Pediatric Health, Education
OVERVIEW: Elon Musk formed The Musk Foundation in 2002, and focuses its grantmaking in the areas of renewable energy, science and engineering education, and pediatric health.
BACKGROUND: Elon Musk grew up in South Africa, but moved to Canada at the age of 17 after obtaining citizenship through his mother, where he attended the Queen's School of Business before transferring to University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, where he received his bachelor's. He also pursued a Ph.D. in applied physics at Stanford, but left to pursue entrepreneurial interests, becoming a known quantity for Paypal, Space X, and Tesla Motors.
SPACE EXPLORATION: A committed supporter of space exploration, Musk once planned a project he called "Mars Oasis," in which he would place an experimental greenhouse on the red planet. The idea was to grow food crops in the greenhouse, which could eventually lead to a colony. Musk eventually had no choice but to put the project on hold when he realized that the lack of appropriate rocket technology made it impossible. Therefore, in response, he did what any problem solver would do and created SpaceX to guide the development of new, more advanced interplanetary rockets that could make such a colony possible.
Musk's philanthropic vision reflects that same view of the future, but all of it includes an element of space exploration. Overall, his stated long-term goal is to help humanity by making common space travel a reality through SpaceX. In a way, it could be said that SpaceX, besides being a profitable enterprise, guides Musk's philanthropic vision as well.
ENERGY: Musk has announced his support for an effort to preserve and turn the site of Nikola Tesla's lab into the Tesla Science Center and Museum, and through his Foundation is engaging in a series of projects to donate solar power systems in areas hit by disaster through his solar power company, Solar City. The first one was donated to the South Bay Communities Alliance's Hurricane Response Center in Coden, Alabama, on the Gulf Coast. It was built at Solar City's cost. The 25-kilowatt system is one of the largest in the state of Alabama, consisting of 108 solar panels manufactured in Tennessee, and it will produce 90% to 100% of the center's electricity use. Musk donated US$1 million towards the construction of the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe.
The foundation also donated $250,000 to build a similar solar power system in the Fukushima prefecture of Japan after its devastating earthquake.
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: Near the end of 2015 Musk and colleague Sam Altman founded OpenAI, a $1 billion research center for artificial intelligence. The center is particularly concerned with investigating safe and beneficial ways of ushering a potentially uncertain era of artificial intelligence. Musk has also donated $10 million to the Future of Life Institute, for similar purposes. In late 2015, Musk suggested he might back development of a neural lace to insert AI into the human brain.
- Musk Foundation, 11075 Santa Monica Blvd., Ste. 150, Los Angeles, CA 90025, 310-473-7575
- Twitter: @elonmusk