Luminar Technologies founder and CEO Austin Russell. Picture: DAVID PAUL/BLOOMBERG
Luminar Technologies founder and CEO Austin Russell. Picture: DAVID PAUL/BLOOMBERG

San Francisco — Austin Russell, the 25-year-old founder and CEO of Luminar Technologies, is set to become one of the youngest self-made billionaires.

Russell will hold 104.7-million shares of Luminar after it goes public, a roughly 35% stake that is worth about $1.1bn at the company’s current valuation, according to a proxy statement filed on Monday.

The Stanford University dropout is also expected to hold about 83% of the voting power at the driverless-car start-up after its combination with special purpose acquisition company Gores Metropoulos. That will give him control over the election of board members and all other major decisions submitted to stockholders for approval.

Russell founded Luminar in 2012. The Orlando-based company makes light detection and ranging sensors, or lidar, that bounce lasers off objects to guide vehicles. The sensors are expensive, and Luminar has emerged from a crowded start-up field in part by bringing down the cost.

Luminar’s backers include Peter Thiel, who awarded a then-17-year-old Russell a fellowship to help start the firm, and GoPro founder Nick Woodman. The company has a partnership with a unit of Volvo Car, which says it will begin using Luminar’s technology to enable hands-free highway driving beginning in 2022.

Russell isn’t the only young entrepreneur to hit billionaire status through a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, merger in 2020. Thomas Healy, who was 28 when his Texas-based truck electrification start-up Hyliion went public in October, also accomplished the feat.

Such deals have proliferated in recent weeks, with more than $52bn raised by 136 blank-cheque firms that have gone public in 2020 on US exchanges. SPACs are now getting scrutiny from the US Securities and Exchange Commission, which wants to ensure investors are receiving appropriate disclosures about insiders’ pay structures.

Luminar will be traded on the Nasdaq under the ticker LAZR after its combination with Gores Metropoulos, which is expected to be completed in the fourth quarter. The company did not immediately respond to an e-mail requesting comment.



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