Nolan Bushnell

2024 Fellow

For his pioneering role in the development of the video game and personal computing industries

Finding good partners is the key to success in anything: in business, in marriage, and, especially, in investing.

— Nolan Bushnell

Nolan Bushnell is a pioneer, entrepreneur, and visionary whose accomplishments have left an indelible mark on the technology, gaming, and entertainment industries. Born on February 5, 1943, in Clearfield, Utah, Bushnell showed an early aptitude for electronics and entrepreneurship.

During his college years at the University of Utah, where he majored in electrical engineering, Bushnell first encountered computer programming and worked for several major companies and even selling encyclopedias and operating his own advertising company. During that time, he also worked at an amusement park, which taught him valuable lessons about games and human psychology that would come in handy throughout his career. After graduating in 1968, he landed a job at Ampex Corporation, where he worked on video projects and honed his skills as an engineer.

In 1970, Bushnell cofounded Syzygy, which created Computer Space, the first coin-operated video game. In 1972, the name was changed to Atari, a company that would become synonymous with the early video game industry. With the release of Pong in 1972, Atari helped popularize video gaming as a mainstream form of entertainment. Bushnell’s knack for innovation and his willingness to take risks helped Atari thrive in its early years, and the company quickly became a household name.

Bushnell’s ambitions didn’t stop at gaming. In 1976, he founded Chuck E. Cheese’s, a chain of family entertainment centers and restaurants that combined arcade games with pizza and animatronic characters. The concept was a hit, and Chuck E. Cheese’s quickly grew into a nationwide phenomenon in the United States.

In 1976, Bushnell sold Atari to Warner Communications in a deal worth $28 million, but clashes with Warner’s corporate culture ultimately led to his departure in 1979. Undeterred, Bushnell continued to pursue new ventures, founding a series of startups, including the first Silicon Valley incubator, and investing in a wide range of industries, from technology to education, robotics, and restaurants.

Since his early days at Atari, Bushnell has demonstrated a knack for innovation and a willingness to embrace new ideas, all the while, as he says, “having fun.” As the pace of technological change continues to accelerate, Bushnell’s pioneering spirit and ability to see opportunities serve as a lesson for the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators in how success can come from taking risks and adapting to change.


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