First of all, the use of the word “uber” was chosen by the Churchill Club.

This month, the Churchill Club hosted an event at Microsoft’s campus in Mountain View, Calif., that featured a casual conversation between Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and Space-X, and well-known Silicon Valley reporter Michael Malone. The evening provided a look inside the mind of a great entrepreneur/inventor and his two companies.

Despite what people think of Musk, at the end of the night I couldn’t help but marvel at what he has accomplished in 37 years.

Born in South Africa, he immigrated to Canada at 17 to avoid military service. After graduating with degrees in economics and physics, he was accepted to Stanford Graduate School, only to drop out two days later and start a company with his brother. The company, Zip2, was the first to bring door-to-door directions to the Internet and eventually sold for $307 million, cash. After the sale of Zip2, he went on to co-found PayPal, which was sold to eBay for $1.5 billion.

Musk is mainly known, at least right now, for Tesla, which is building electric vehicles that run on lithium-ion batteries. The company, and Musk acknowledged this, faced some very troubling times where they nearly had to close the doors and abandon the project. However, because he decided to take over the reins, he was able to help the company make a U-turn and head in the right direction (pun intended).

With production of the company’s $100,000+ Roadster in full swing and close to being sold out, Tesla is shifting from a troubled company to what could be an industry pioneer. To further validate the shift, Musk just announced the Tesla “S,” a $50,000 sedan model.

If developing what could be the first mass-manufactured, electric vehicle wasn’t enough, what about being awarded a $1.6 billion contract from NASA to develop a new rocket system to deliver cargo to space?

Musk’s company, Space-X, is scheduled to test its first rocket, the Falcon-9, this summer with plans for its first operational mission at the end of 2010. In addition to the Falcon-9 rocket, the company will be testing a Space Shuttle replacement at the end of the year called the Dragon Spacecraft. Musk is hoping that the Dragon Spacecraft will provide the capability of returning to the Moon and eventually landing on Mars. *Side note: Musk has a bet with Malone that Space-X will land a man on Mars by 2020.

What’s next for him? Musk said he hasn’t thought about it too much, but eventually he’d like to tackle fusion, develop new technology for more efficient and durable highways and/or possibly building a supersonic electric plane.

However, probably the best non-technical question from the audience was regarding how Musk decided to get into the space industry. Paraphrased, he wanted to benefit mankind in three different ways: Internet, clean technology and space.

Safe to say, at least for the moment, he is well on his way to accomplishing that goal.

— Matt Wolpin

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