Paul's Biography

Paul Allen has a question. And if you ever meet him, you’ll hear him ask it more than once.

What should exist?

What if we don’t have to accept the world as it is? What if there is more to know? What if we played the long game for the future, instead of pursuing short-term rewards? Asking “what should exist?” is Paul Allen’s world. It was the question he asked as a sci-fi and music-loving kid growing up in the outskirts of Seattle, designing plans for a rocket to take him to Mars. It was what guided him as the co-founder and idea broker for Microsoft, the company that set off the personal computing revolution. And it’s what has led him to spearheading a range of efforts from commercial space travel to brain science research to artificial intelligence breakthroughs. Every direction he pursues starts from the very same place—a relentless belief in possibility and the desire to open up the future. Like many of us, when Paul notices something about the world that interests or fascinates or bothers him, he wonders if it can be done differently, more efficiently, more in service of progress. And over the years he’s discovered that it can. And it should.

Four decades after co-founding Microsoft, entrepreneur and philanthropist Paul G. Allen is still exploring the frontiers of technology and human knowledge, and working to change the future.

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Through his company Vulcan Inc. and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, Mr. Allen is working to save endangered species, improve ocean health, tackle contagious diseases, research the human brain and build sustainable communities. In all his endeavors, Mr. Allen constantly asks “What if…?” and pushes people to challenge conventional thinking, collaborate across disciplines and reimagine what’s possible.

Aptly, Mr. Allen named his company for Vulcan, the Roman god of fire. According to myth, Vulcan was tossed from the heavens as a child, raised by a sea nymph, and grew up as a strong-willed, freethinking outsider. That spirit of independence fueled Vulcan’s approach as a blacksmith, and helped him forge works that no one else – not even the gods – thought were possible. As a company, the modern Vulcan’s mission is to discover and develop smart solutions for some of the world’s toughest challenges.

As the idea man and original technologist behind Microsoft, Mr. Allen pioneered the PC software industry in the late 1970s and early 1980s – a development that ultimately enabled billions of people to use computers and unlocked incalculable human and economic potential. In the years since, Mr. Allen has used his wealth to tackle a wide range of challenges, and to expand the horizons of human possibility.

For example, since 2003, Mr. Allen has invested more than $350 million in brain research, primarily through the Allen Institute for Brain Science. The Allen Institute is developing a detailed, digital atlas of the human brain and spinal cord. These growing public resources will dramatically accelerate advances in neuroscience and could ultimately lead to revolutionary treatments for traumatic brain injuries, dementia, paralysis and other problems.

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Mr. Allen also founded the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence to explore critical questions in AI. And in 2014, he founded the Allen Institute for Cell Science and its inaugural project, the Allen Cell Observatory, which will accelerate disease research by creating predictive cell models.

As he explores new frontiers in science, Mr. Allen is also pushing to explore planetary boundaries. For example, Mr. Allen funded SpaceShipOne, the first private spacecraft to carry a civilian into suborbital space and safely home again, an historic triumph that in 2004 captured the Ansari X-Prize. More recently, Mr. Allen formed Vulcan Aerospace to collaborate across space travel investments and oversee the Stratolaunch System, an orbital launch model that will dramatically change the economics of space launches.

Equally committed to earthly challenges, Mr. Allen gave $100 million to fight the West African Ebola epidemic. Announced in 2014, his gift was the largest private donation in the world focused entirely on this deadly plague, and served as a catalyst to spur greater involvement from governments and other donors around the world.

Mr. Allen’s philanthropy also encompasses history and the arts. An avid guitarist, his love for the music of Jimi Hendrix inspired him to found MoPOP, which explores the ideas and risks that fuel pop culture. Mr. Allen is also the founder of the Flying Heritage Collection, a collection of rare WWII aircraft and artifacts restored to working condition, and the Living Computer Museum + Labs, a collection of restored vintage timesharing computer equipment. He believes the greatest value of art is created when it is shared widely, which led to the founding of the Seattle Art Fair and Upstream Music Fest + Summit. He is also the Chair of Vulcan Productions, an award-winning media company that develops and supports media projects that help audiences understand and respond to challenges facing the world around them.

Mr. Allen is the proud owner of several of the greenest teams in sports, including the National Basketball Association’s Portland Trail Blazers and the National Football Association’s Seattle Seahawks. He is also part of the primary ownership group for Seattle Sounders FC, Seattle’s Major League Soccer team. It is Mr. Allen’s firm belief that, with the right team, anything is possible – no matter what the endeavor may be.

All told, Mr. Allen’s philanthropic contributions exceed $2 billion. As a member of the Giving Pledge, he remains committed to giving away the majority of his fortune.

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