Born on September 18, 1973 in Welkom, Free State, Mark Shuttleworth is one South African who loves technology, innovation, change and space (guess his last name says a lot about his likes). The son of a surgeon and a nursery school teacher, he attended Rondebosch Boy’s High School and Western Province Preparatory School.

He went on to obtain a Business Science degree in Finance and Information Systems from the University of Cape Town, where he had his first major encounter with the internet as he took part in installing the first residential internet connection for the university’s Smut Hall in which he resided.

Today, he is described as a South African entrepreneur, with bragging rights such as founding Canonical Ltd – makers of the Ubuntu operating system; HBD (Here Be Dragons) Venture Capital, a business incubator and venture capital provider; and being the second self-funded space tourist in the world.

Ubuntu is considered one of his greatest successes, alongside Shuttleworth being the first African in space.

The Journey 

Shuttleworth was in the university when the internet first came to South Africa. He was easily fascinated by the potentials for growth and change in the society, which the phenomenon brought with it and he quickly familiarized and involved himself with it.

In 1995, during his final year at UCT, Shuttleworth set up his first company, Thawte. The company which specialized in cryptography and digital certificates was the first to produce a commercially available full-security encrypted e-commerce web server outside of the USA and by 1999 when it was bought by VeriSign in 1999 for about $575 million dollars at the time, it was the fastest growing internet certificate authority worldwide.

He was a developer of the Debian operating system in the 1990s, and in 2004, he funded the development of Ubuntu, a Linux distribution based on Debian, through his company Canonical Ltd. Ubuntu is a popular Linux-based, easy to use operating system that is freely available worldwide for desktops and servers and according to the latest Evans Data Open Source report, 38% of open source developers use the Ubuntu distribution today.

He is not your average IT manager. He explains “if you do the same thing as everyone else, you are going to get the same result as everyone else. You won’t stand out. Be conscious of the things you do differently”.

Shuttleworth went on to found HBD Venture Capital, which invests through fund managers into listed and unlisted investments mostly in Africa.

In 2005, he founded Canonical Ltd to provide support on a commercial basis for the free Ubuntu operating system. It also builds many of the unique elements of Ubuntu for desktop, cloud and server deployments. He was CEO of Canonical from 2004-2010 but now he is more interested in the product design his company churns out and he leads design and product strategy at Canonical.

The Benevolent Dictator

What prompts the act of Philanthropy? The world is filled with billionaires yet people live in abject poverty, with war, famine and drought threatening the existence of Man. A few of these billionaires have decided to give back to the society. One of such people is Mark Shuttleworth.

When one hears ‘philanthropy’, the mind usually goes to people giving to charities to prevent famine, provide shelter, etc. Shuttleworth believes that free software brings us into a new era of technology, and holds the promise of universal access to the tools of the digital era. It is this belief that drives his brand of philanthropy which is different from the usual.

In 2001, he founded the Shuttleworth Foundation, a non-profit organisation which funds free, open source and educational software projects in South Africa. The foundation aims to foster social innovation and so it funds projects that have potential to bring about change and improvement to society. The Foundation identifies people with such projects and gives them fellowship grants. Those it funds are usually social innovators seeking investment support to make the world better.

In 2005, he founded the Ubuntu Foundation, a self-funded, non-profit organisation dedicated to the Ubuntu Project. He made an initial investment of $10 mllion in the foundation. Those involved in the Ubuntu Project refer to Shuttleworth as the Self-Appointed Benevolent Dictator For Life. This foundation was formed to secure the continuity of the Ubuntu Project and cater for the philanthropic and non-commercial aspects of the project while Canonical caters for the commercial support and certification programmes aspects.

The primary goal of the Ubuntu Foundation is to ensure the continued provision of high quality, free and open source software in the world.

He may not be ending hunger, or war, or drought but he is providing tools to make the world a better place in his own way. He is fostering development by investing in projects that will bring about social and economic improvement all over the world.

Outside Business as Usual

Many people in the world dream of going to space, but only few ever get to live that dream. In April 2002, Shuttleworth became one of the very few when he got the chance to fly in space.

With that trip, he made history as the first African in space and the second self funded cosmonaut.

Shuttleworth says while on the trip he was struck by one thing: there is no buffer.

“On Earth, we see so much sky. But space is empty and dark and it can’t support us. When you see the planet as if it’s the size of a basketball, the atmosphere is thinner than your fingernail,” he said.

He spent a year working on the project, including seven months of formal training at Star City in Russia, and almost as much time in medical testing, science program development and negotiations. He also paid a whopping $20million to realise that dream.

He was a member of the crew of Soyuz TM-34 which launched from Baikonur in Kazakhstan and docked with the International Space Station. The mission included 8 days working on the ISS, conducting a program of South African science experiments and enjoying the extraordinary environment of weightlessness before coming back to earth with a bump.

Since then, he has worked on a roadshow to share that experience as well as his excitement about science, mathematics and technology with pupils across South Africa. The science and maths show has been seen by more than 100,000 pupils from nearly 2,000 schools and has spawned a plethora of initiatives under the Hip2BSquare brand, which aim to make mathematics and science sexy to pupils who are choosing their subjects for high school.

He currently lives in the Isle of Man, and is an active member of the Ubuntu community. He spends his days living his passion: working to create a universal, freely available high quality desktop software environment for everyone.

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