A few things to know about UI commencement speaker Max Levchin

A few things to know about UI commencement speaker Max Levchin

You may recognize a few companies Max Levchin has been associated with over the years — PayPal (co-founder), Yelp (chairman), Yahoo (board of directors).

The former Soviet refugee, a 1997 University of Illinois computer science alumnus and one of the world’s most influential tech entrepreneurs, will deliver Saturday’s commencement address and chat with 200 students at a Friday-evening Q&A with Provost Andreas Cangellaris.

A few things to know about the 42-year-old, courtesy staff writer Julie Wurth:

— Maksymilian Rafailovych Levchyn was born in Ukraine to a family of physicists and overcame life-threatening respiratory diseases, according to a 2015 Bloomberg interview. His parents were told he wouldn't live past childhood, but he took up the clarinet to strengthen his lungs. The family left the Soviet Union in 1991 under political asylum and settled in Chicago.

— Levchin dreamed of attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology but told his counselor he wanted to go to "MTI." His counselor couldn't find it and pointed him to the UI. By the time he figured out the error in translating the abbreviation from Russian, he was already involved in tech startups on campus.

— At the UI, he worked with fellow students Luke Nosek and Scott Bannister on startups NetMeridian Software, an early developer of Internet applications, and SponsorNet New Media, an advertising company. He recruited them to California's Silicon Valley when he met tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel and co-founded Fieldlink, later named Confinity, which developed encrypted data for digital wallets.

— Confinity later merged with an online banking company founded by Elon Musk and rolled out the online payment system PayPal, which was eventually acquired by eBay in 2002 for $1.5 billion. Levchin's share was worth about $34 million, according to media reports. He went on to found the online review site Yelp with other members of the "PayPal Mafia," as well as Slide, a photo- and video-sharing site later acquired by Google.

"It's quite a track record," said Vikram Adve, interim head of the Department of Computer Science. "I would definitely put him at the very top of the list of entrepreneurial leaders" from the computer-science program, along with Tom Siebel of Oracle and Siebel Systems and YouTube co-founders Jawed Karim and Steve Chen.

— Levchin is now CEO of HVF (Hard, Valuable, Fun), which he calls an incubator for brainstorming and taking risks. He's also chairman of Glow, an app that tracks women's fertility, and CEO of Affirm, a financial-services technology company that is challenging the lending business by making microloans to consumers for small purchases.

— The tech pioneer returns to campus every few years, most recently for the computer-science department's 50th anniversary in 2014, Adve said. Levchin also endowed a scholarship in honor of his grandmother, Frima Lukatskaya, and regularly hosts groups of students who visit Silicon Valley firms through the College of Engineering's Technology Entrepreneur Center.

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