How Did World-Known Space Entrepreneurs Build Their Way to the Stars?

A space rocket.

The 21st century is the new era of space exploration, with opportunities never available before when the state governments ruled the game. Now, however, the rules have changed, and private entrepreneurs are the main driving force pushing today’s space industry forward. Practically everyone has heard of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Maxym Polyakov, and, of course, Richard Branson. The one thing most of these businessmen have in common is their passion for the stars and the willingness to risk everything to raise the necessary funding to reach space. So, how exactly did these visionaries come up with their cosmic budgets? Read on to find out!

Elon Musk

It’s only logical to start our list with the most hyped billionaire everyone has heard of. Elon Musk started his career in 1995 when he and his brother started the Global Link Information company, which was later rebranded as Zip2. The website was a searchable business directory with listings of local companies and their contact information. In 1999, it sold to PC-maker Compaq Computer for $307 million. The transaction made 27-year-old Musk a millionaire, as his 7% of Zip2 shares amounted to $22 million.

Later on, Musk invested in an online financial service that was renamed PayPal after a major merger. Musk was asked to step down as CEO, but his compensation for the company shares reached $180 million this time.

In 2002, Elon Musk created his most renowned company this far — SpaceX. The entrepreneur invested $100 million of his private funds into launching an aerospace business, but it definitely looks like this risk was worth taking.

Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos has had a head for science since he was a child. After graduating from a university with an engineering degree, Bezos kept improving his understanding of technology, banking, and investment while working for such corporations as IBM and Andersen Consulting.

In 1993, Bezos decided to use the dot-com boom to his benefit by opening a book-selling store. Now everyone knows about Amazon, of course, but, back at the time, few people believed selling books out of the garage would bring any profit. Still, Amazon made its first online sale in 1995, and just one year later, the sales figure reached $15.7 million. The company went public on IPO in 2017, raising $54 million.

Between 2017 and 2021, Forbes listed Bezos as one of the richest people on Earth, with an estimated net worth of $137.8 billion. However, Jeff’s primary passion has always been space. So, after stepping down as Amazon CEO a few years back, Bezos focused his attention on the aerospace company Blue Origin. Last year, the New Shepard rocket took its first tourists to the edge of space, and its owner was one of the first people to make this flight. Today, Jeff Bezos keeps developing Blue Origin, investing $1 billion into space expiation each year.

Richard Branson

Sir Richard Branson is one of the wealthiest businessmen today, and similar to all other entrepreneurs on this list, he started his career at an early age. When he was just 16, Sir Richard launched a Student magazine that interviewed celebrities and made a profit from advertising. The first issue sold almost $8,000, so Branson, encouraged by this success, dropped out of school to keep building his business empire.

The next successful milestone on Branson’s achievements list was a mail-order record company named Virgin, which used magazine offices as an operating basis. That is how an entire Virgin empire began in 1969. In 1972, Branson founded the music label Virgin Records, which earned the young entrepreneur his first million. More importantly, this studio helped make the history of 20th-century music by working with The Rolling Stones, Ozzy Osbourne, and many others.

But Branson did not plan to stop there. In a few years, he founded over 50 other Virgin companies, including Virgin Books, Virgin Video, and many others. Soon enough, the annual revenues from Virgin empire exceeded $17 million.

Next, Sir Richard created a luxury airline Virgin Galactic, offering the highest level of customer service onboard. But Branson kept pushing for the stars, and in 2004, Virgin Galactic came to life. Sir Richard Branson is already launching payloads into orbit and, soon, hopes to offer affordable space tourist flight, too.

Maxym Polyakov

Maxym Polyakov is one of the most successful european space entrepreneurs today. Born in Ukraine in a family of Soviet aerospace engineers, Maxym acquired a passion for space technology, Math, and science at a young age.

Polyakov founded his first successful company back at the university. The IT startup was outsourcing development services to the Western market. After this initial success, Maxym Polyakov extended his network of IT projects, launching a string of profitable sites in marketing, gaming, and online dating niches.

In 2005, Polyakov brought his sites under one umbrella by co-founding IDE Group. Originally, it included Maxymiser, HitDynamics, and Cupid. HitDynamics was successfully sold for $6 million to US company Hitwise. When Maxymiser raised another $26 million in venture investments by 2015, it was purchased by Oracle Corporation. Cupid eventually grew into a huge international dating network. In 2010, Maxym Polyakov became the first Ukrainian entrepreneur to have his tech company listed on London Stock Exchange when Cupid PLC went IPO. Just a year later, Cupid generated a whopping $83 million in revenue.

After building and selling several successful companies, Polyakov could finally turn his attention to space. In 2014, he became a partner at Noosphere Ventures Partners investment fund. In 2015, Noosphere sponsored the creation of Earth Observing Systems Data Analytics (EOSDA). In 2017, the same venture fund purchased American rocket-building company Firefly out of bankruptcy. Back at the time, Maxym Polyakov invested $200 million of his fortune into this project, rebranding it as Firefly Aerospace. Firefly’s Alpha rocket successfully reached orbit in October 2022, on its second launch attempt following an anomaly in 2021.

Now, according to Forbes estimates, Maxym Polyakov’s fortune has reached $540 million.

Robert Bigelow

Robert Bigelow may not be the most prominent contributor to the development of space tech on this list, but his space enthusiasm simply cannot be questioned. According to the entrepreneur himself, space was always his greatest passion. From the late 1960s till the 1990s, Bigelow built thousands of hotels, motels, and apartments — all to later invest in space technologies.

Bigelow was also convinced that aliens live among us, which is why he founded National Institute for Discovery Science to research paranormal activities. A few years after that, he created Bigelow Aerospace, a company that produces expandable space station modules. He also dreamed of building the first private space station and intended to invest $500 million into this commercial project.

Finally, it would seem that Bigelow never really said goodbye to real estate construction since he also announced plans to build an inflatable space hotel in the Earth’s orbit. No doubt that would be a logical continuation of Robert Bigelow’s legacy. 

Paul Allen

Paul Allen gained his international recognition as a co-founder of Microsoft Corporation along with school friend Bill Gates, but his business achievements reached space, too.

When two university dropouts, Gates and Allen, started adapting BASIC software for small computers, it was still used only for large devices. However, the two succeeded, which secured them a contract with a major company MITS. It did not take Allen and Gates long to start a company of their own, which was spelled Micro-Soft at the time. By the way, the Microsoft name was suggested by Allen.

Allen resigned from his technical Microsoft job in 1983 but remained on its board of directors for years after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. Paul Allen used his revenues to sponsor charity initiatives, establish his own venture fund for further investments, and even buy a baseball team.

But baseball was not his only dream. When Allen finally stepped down from the Microsoft board of directors in 2000, he used the money from selling his company shares to invest in SpaceShipOne. It was this company’s vehicles that sent the first private crews to space. In 2011, Allen launched another aerospace business, Stratolaunch Systems Corp. Now, Its fleet of vehicles send satellites and, one day soon, people to space.

At the time of his passing in 2018, Paul Allen’s fortune was estimated at $20.3 billion by Forbes, making him the 44th wealthiest person on the planet.

These people, among a few others, have inspired a whole revolution in today’s space industry. Now that the space exploration race is mostly led by private companies, we can expect more innovative projects from space visionaries. Still, new space startuppers own their thanks to the effort of adventurous enthusiasts like Richard Branson, Maxym Polyakov, and Jeff Bezos because these pioneers paved the way to the stars for many people to follow.

About Carson Derrow

My name is Carson Derrow I'm an entrepreneur, professional blogger, and marketer from Arkansas. I've been writing for startups and small businesses since 2012. I share the latest business news, tools, resources, and marketing tips to help startups and small businesses to grow their business.