Sam Altman's Business Ventures: AI, Nuclear Fusion, and Hypersonic Jets

AI For Business

OpenAI's enigmatic CEO, Sam Altman, has been called many things: a Renaissance man, a technology visionary, a modern-day Robert Oppenheimer, and a con man.

Altman is best known for his work pushing artificial intelligence into the mainstream over the past few years, most notably serving as the face of ChatGPT, the OpenAI chatbot that debuted in late 2022 to both praise and surprise.

OpenAI is just one of many ventures that the 39-year-old entrepreneur and newly-billionaire is currently involved in (or has been involved in). Below are some of his biggest ventures:

What did humans create?
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and Law on May 16, 2023 in Washington, DC.

Win McNamee/Getty Images


In 2005, after two years of studying computer science at Stanford University, Altman dropped out and co-founded Loopt, an early social networking service that allowed smartphone users to share their locations with friends.

Originally called Radiate, the company was one of a number of Silicon Valley startups that recognized the value of location data, which began to proliferate as GPS-enabled smartphones became more widespread.

Loopt received its first round of funding from Y Combinator, the influential startup accelerator that has nurtured tech giants from DoorDash to Stripe to Reddit, after Altman and then-classmate Nick Chibo built their first prototype.

In 2006, Boost Mobile featured Loopt in a commercial with the tagline “Where are you? A year later, Loopt expanded to major mobile carriers, and in 2008 it added support for Blackberry, seizing its big opportunity to enter the then-fledgling iTunes app store.

Loopt was acquired by financial-services company Green Dot in 2012 for $43.4 million in cash, giving Altman his first big payday.

Y Combinator

By the time he pulled his money from Loopt, Altman had already become a partner at Y Combinator, eventually becoming its president. During his time at the startup accelerator, he joined Elon Musk, Peter Thiel and other Silicon Valley gurus in pitching their artificial intelligence venture as a nonprofit, announcing the founding of OpenAI, with an initial $1 billion raised.

For many years, Altman effectively ran both Y Combinator and OpenAI, and is infamously remembered in tech circles for being fired from the former because he prioritized his work at the latter.

Paul Graham, a venture capitalist who co-founded Y Combinator and served as Altman's early mentor, recently refuted claims that he personally fired Altman, saying they both agreed that Altman couldn't run two companies at the same time.


Altman served as CEO of Reddit for eight days in 2014, replacing Yishan Wong, who resigned, and helping replace Steve Huffman, Reddit's co-founder and current CEO.

Altman, an early investor in the social networking site, was listed as the third-largest shareholder with about 9% of the stock before the company's blockbuster initial public offering earlier this year. His stake was worth more than $600 million on the company's first day of trading.

“United Slate”

Amid calls for him to run for office, Altman announced his first major political project, United Slate, in 2018. He told reporters at the time that he had no interest in running for office but remained committed to progressive policies that put California first, including on housing, infrastructure and health care.

Altman has donated primarily to Democrats, including Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Andrew Yang and Joe Biden, as well as one Republican member of Congress.

Tools for humanity

Altman is co-founder and chairman of Tools for Humanity, the developer of a controversial cryptocurrency project called WorldCoin, which aims to make it easier to determine whether digital content was created by AI or humans by providing a “proof of personality” based on scans of a person's eyeballs.

The WorldCoin platform verifies a user's identity by scanning their iris to create a personal ID code, which is then stored on a decentralized blockchain that Tools for Humanity says cannot be replicated.

WorldCoin has created a digital passport system that also includes a crypto token and payment platform. The project has come under scrutiny in several countries where it operates, facing accusations that it is trying to create a network by encouraging people, especially in developing countries, to hand over personal information in exchange for cash or crypto payments.

Noland Arbaugh is the first human patient to have a Neuralink device implanted in his brain.



Altman invested in Elon Musk's privately held brain implant venture in 2021. At the time, the two startups shared an office and the two tech leaders were at odds over the direction of OpenAI. Earlier this year, the first human patient was implanted with a Neuralink chip: quadriplegic Noland Arbaugh, who can now move a computer mouse with just his thoughts.


In 2022, Altman became a lead investor in biotech startup RetroBio, which is working to develop cellular reprogramming that it says could eventually extend the average human lifespan by 10 years.

An unmanned aerial vehicle from Hermeus, a startup pioneering hypersonic jet travel, is on display.



Altman is also a major investor in Hermeus, a startup that is trying to develop the world's first reusable hypersonic aircraft. The company's ultimate goal is to build a passenger plane called Halcyon that can fly from New York to London in 90 minutes. Hermeus' first unmanned test flight is scheduled for later this year.

Helion's fusion power generation will reach temperatures of over 100 million degrees.

Helion Energy

Helion Energy

Altman is chairman of the board of directors of Helion Energy, one of a handful of startups working to develop nuclear fusion, the holy grail of clean energy — a source of energy derived from the sun.

Helion aims to generate electricity from nuclear fusion by 2028, a feat that has long been considered just a few years away. Still, the company already has a deep-pocketed customer in Microsoft, and is eyeing building its first power plant in Washington state.

Altman's interest in fusion comes as no surprise, given growing concerns that the massive power demands of AI data centers are already straining the power grid — he says he sees nuclear energy as one way to solve that problem without relying on fossil fuels.

A rendering of Oklo's first small nuclear reactor, Aurora.



Oklo, the only publicly traded company where Altman serves as chairman, is another nuclear startup that uses nuclear fission rather than fusion to produce clean energy. The startup, which went public in May, aims to disrupt the way nuclear reactors are currently built and operated by miniaturizing the reactor itself.

The name comes from a region in Gabon, Africa, where spontaneous, self-sustaining nuclear fission reactions are thought to have occurred about 1.7 billion years ago.

Open AI

Altman's biggest and most profitable business is, of course, OpenAI. Initially marketed as a non-profit effort aimed at developing artificial intelligence for the benefit of humanity, OpenAI has since transformed into a for-profit company with the backing of Microsoft. The still privately held company is estimated to be worth more than $80 billion, a figure that has skyrocketed since ChatGPT was introduced less than two years ago.

On November 30, 2022, OpenAI announced ChatGPT, a chatbot and virtual assistant based on large-scale language models (LLMs). GPT stands for Generative Pre-Trained Transformers, which allows applications to do reinforcement learning from human feedback.

ChatGPT is credited with kicking off the AI ​​race and spurring the release of similar products such as Google's Gemini, X's Grok, Microsoft's Copilot, and Meta's Llama.

By January 2023, ChatGPT had over 100 million users.

Later that year, in a move that made headlines around the world, OpenAI's board removed Altman as CEO, citing his “consistent and unspoken communication” as the reason. Days later, the company's employees rebelled and threatened to resign en masse, and Altman was reinstated, but it was a major black mark on the board.

Altman Nadella
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (right) speaks as OpenAI CEO Sam Altman (left) looks on during the OpenAI DevDay event in San Francisco on November 6, 2023.

Getty Images


Shortly after Altman was ousted from OpenAI, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced that Altman would join Microsoft to lead a new AI research team.

Two days later, after OpenAI employees wrote an open letter to the board threatening to quit and join Microsoft if Altman was not reinstated as CEO, he returned to the company he helped found nearly a decade ago, where he was given a seat on the company's board and maintains close ties to both Altman and OpenAI.