Mark Shuttleworth is an African entrepreneur with a love of technology, innovation and space flight.
He funds HBD Venture Capital, an investment company based in South Africa, along with The Shuttleworth Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to social innovation in Africa with a particular focus on education. He currently lives in London, where he is an active member of the Ubuntu community, working to create a universal, freely available high quality desktop software environment for everyone.
Shuttleworth was born in the dusty gold-mining town of Welkom in South Africa, and grew up in beautiful Cape Town. His passion for technology first showed up as a love of computer games, a fascination that continues today. While studying for a business science degree in finance and information systems at the University of Cape Town (UCT) he first encountered the Internet, and quickly became intrigued by the changes it would bring in business and society.
In 1995, his final year at UCT, Shuttleworth founded Thawte Consulting as an internet consulting business. The focus of the company quickly shifted to internet security for electronic commerce. Thawte became the first company to produce a full-security e-commerce web server that was commercially available outside the United States. This brought Thawte to the world of public key infrastructure, which is the basis for all encrypted and authenticated internet transactions. Thawte was one of the first companies to be recognized by both Netscape and Microsoft as a trusted third party for web site certification, and it quickly established a leadership position helping businesses around the world accept secure transactions over the web. By 1999 Thawte was the fastest-growing internet certificate authority, and the leading certificate authority outside of the USA. Shuttleworth sold Thawte to VeriSign in December 1999 and began to look for new challenges.
After the dizzy days of 1999, he formed a new project team called HBD. The name is a reference to the phrase Here Be Dragons, which legend has it was used to describe uncharted territory on early maps. HBD is a venture-capital company seeking to invest in innovative companies that are based in South Africa but that have the potential to serve a global marketplace. HBD has invested in several South African companies in a variety of sectors, such as software, pharmaceutical services, electronics, and mobile phone services. In addition to funding HBD, Shuttleworth also serves as a non-executive director on the board of the company.
In the hope that risk capital can be as important for social development as it is for the economy, Shuttleworth has also created a non-profit organization that supports social innovation in education in Africa. The Shuttleworth Foundation funds projects that have the potential to bring about dramatic improvements to some aspect of the education system and hopes to improve both the quality and the reach of education in Africa. The Foundation has worked in all 9 provinces of South Africa, funding initiatives from teachers, small businesses, and private individuals. The Foundation is also an advocate of the role of open source software in education and in developing countries.
In April 2002 Shuttleworth realized a lifelong dream to fly in space. 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. The First African in Space project was without doubt the most challenging and exciting project any geek could wish for. He was a member of the crew of Soyuz TM-34, launched from Baikonur in Kazakhstan, and docked with the International Space Station two days later. 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. It 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.
In between projects, Shuttleworth tends to focus on catching up with the world of technology, particularly software and the Web, in the search for new ideas and opportunities.
In early 2004, Shuttleworth founded the Ubuntu project, which aims to produce a high quality desktop software environment that is freely available all over the world. The project brings together the very best of the free software stack, and has resulted in the creation of a number of unique tools for free software developers, such as the Bzr revision control system and Launchpad.net. Sub-projects include specialized desktop environments for schools, and for the needs of people in specific countries or industries, such as Edubuntu and Kubuntu.