The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) is in a small college town located about 150 miles south of Chicago.
Surrounded by corn and soybean fields, Urbana-Champaign doesn’t strike you at first as a place where future tech leaders would emerge.
It’s why many people fail to realise that UIUC has bred some of the most remarkable tech visionaries in history. They built companies that essentially changed tech history as we know it.
Marc Andreessen invented Mosaic, the browser that popularised the web, when he was still at UIUC in 1992. He graduated from UIUC's computer science program in 1993, and was only 22 years old when he was recruited by the legendary entrepreneur Jim Clark to start Netscape Communications. Together, they created Netscape Navigator, one of the first and most widely used commercial web browsers ever.
Andreessen also co-founded Opsware (formerly Loudcloud) and sold it to HP for $US1.6 billion in 2007. He's now running Andreessen Horowitz, one of the most prominent VC firms in the Valley.
Oracle's founder Larry Ellison grew up outside of Chicago and went to UIUC for two years. Although he dropped out after his sophomore year because his adoptive mother had died, Ellison showed signs of brilliance at an early age, even being named the science student of the year at UIUC.
Since its founding in 1977, Oracle went on to become one of the largest enterprise tech companies in the world. Last year, it had over $US38 billion in revenue, with more than 122,000 employees worldwide. Ellison is the third richest man on the Forbes List with a net worth of $US52.5 billion.
Max Levchin, a computer science grad in 1997, is one of the co-founders of the online money transfer service PayPal. The co-founders of PayPal, widely known as 'PayPal Mafia,' include Peter Thiel and Elon Musk.
Levchin pitched his idea for what had become PayPal to Thiel over breakfast, after meeting for the first time at a Stanford lecture. Thiel wrote the first check for PayPal and Levchin was named the company's CTO. Eventually, eBay bought PayPal for $US1.5 billion in 2002.
Steve Chen and Jawed Karim, both from UIUC's College of Engineering, co-founded the online video-sharing site YouTube in 2005.
A year later, it was acquired by Google for $US1.65 billion. Time Magazine also named it the Invention of the Year in 2006.
Chen and Karim were also early employees of PayPal.
Most people associate Tesla with its current CEO Elon Musk, but it was Martin Eberhard (computer engineering grad) who first incorporated the company in 2003 with Marc Tarpenning. Eberhard served as CEO until 2007, while Musk was its largest investor and Chairman.
It's unclear what exactly prompted Eberhard to lose his CEO position, but reports indicate he was ousted after Musk lost confidence in him. It led to a lawsuit where Eberhard sued Musk of libel, slander, and breach of contract.
Eberhard told Autoblog in 2010 that he's working with Volkswagen on an electric vehicle project.
Jeremy Stoppelman founded Yelp, the online reviewing site, in 2004, after graduating from UIUC's computer engineering program in 1999. He spent some time at PayPal while attending Harvard Business School, but dropped out to start Yelp.
Stoppelman was the VP of engineering at PayPal and is often mentioned as one of the 'PayPal Mafia' members. At PayPal, he also met Max Levchin, who was one of the early investors of Yelp.
Yelp is now publicly traded and had revenue of roughly $US232 million in 2013.
Thomas Siebel, the founder of Siebel Systems, earned his bachelors, masters, and MBA at UIUC.
Siebel Systems was a leading software company that sold CRM applications, until it was acquired by Oracle for $US5.8 billion in 2005.
He is now the CEO and chairman of the smart energy firm C3 Energy. Forbes estimates his net worth to be over $US2.3 billion.
Ray Ozzie was a computer science student at UIUC when he first started working on PLATO system, which later evolved into Lotus Notes, one of the earliest enterprise collaboration software tools. Lotus was later sold to IBM for $US3.5 billion.
Ozzie then founded another collaboration startup, Groove, which was acquired by Microsoft. He then served as CTO and Chief Software Architect at Microsoft from 2005 to 2010. At age 59 he just launched another startup, a collaborative voice-calling app called Talko.
AMD, the semiconductor company that makes computer processors, was founded in 1969 by Jerry Sanders and seven former Fairchild Semiconductor employees.
Sanders was director of marketing at Fairchild and is known for being one of the best salespeople in the semiconductor industry. He turned AMD into one of the biggest competitors of Intel at one point, and is widely credited for helping drop chip prices.
Sanders stepped down as CEO in 2002. AMD had $US5.3 billion in sales last year.