The Entrepreneurial Journey of Nolan Bushnell – Inventor, Entrepreneur and Tech Pioneer

Nolan Bushnell, inventor, entrepreneur and tech pioneer, talked about his experiences before a packed house on Tuesday evening, Sept. 15, 2015, in LMU’s Hilton Center for Business’ main auditorium. As part of the Hilton Distinguished Entrepreneur Lecture Series, the Fred Kiesner Center for Entrepreneurship invited Bushnell to speak to LMU students, alumni, faculty and guests.


Often cited as the father of the video game industry, Bushnell is best known as the founder of Atari Corporation and Chuck E. Cheese’s. Over the past four decades he has started more than 20 companies, including Catalyst Technologies, the first Silicon Valley incubator, and Etak, the first digital navigation system.

Busnell took the audience through his entrepreneurial endeavors, including selling strawberries door to door at age 7, fixing television sets at age 11, selling advertising for Utah State University calendars during college, starting Atari Corporation in the 1970s – where Steve Jobs worked for him –  then designing toys and creating robots. Then he discussed his current passions – a musical he describes as an “immersive physical experience” and BrainRush, his latest startup focused on improving education with software that uses gamification principles to “addict” students to learning.

The Future for Education, Jobs and Life


Bushnell’s opinion of the United States’ current education system is that it is outdated. “For the most part, the way we learn hasn’t evolved in over 100 years. We’re wired differently now because of technology. We need to have problem-solving skills since access to information is readily available,” he said. “We are teaching wrong things the wrong way.” He thinks passive learning, such as reading, listening and watching, no longer works for children and that we are training out the creativity that exists in them. There should be no grade levels and no grades. Children should progress through learning at their own speed. Education is about mastery, not test scores and grades. Education should be interactive, high speed, adaptive and mastery based with spaced repetition. Bushnell believes a very efficient education maintains passion and enthusiasm. He cites VSauce and Veritasium videos on YouTube as good examples of this.

He said that he feels high school education should teach job skills of the future to prepare high school students for the job market they will enter. His recommendations for skills to study for high school students include:

  • Selling on Ebay
  • Typing at 50 words a minute
  • Simple coding, Unity, Basic
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Word, Excel, PowerPoint
  • Google Analytics
  • Chess

His proposed high school reading list includes:

  • Science fiction
  • A year of Wired magazine
  • A year of the Economist
  • Key business books, such as Clayton Christensen and Malcolm Gladwell.


Bushnell predicts an estimated 50 million jobs will be lost to automation in the coming years due to the growth of self-driving cars, factory robots, automated farms, retail automation and online shopping. In the future, life expectancies will increase due to genetically matched treatments and robot-assisted surgery but these advances, as well as automation, will cause a decline in medical jobs and accounting jobs in the medical field. Bushnell predicts some new jobs of the future will in transportation, aqua culture, and education because the whole workforce will need to embrace lifelong learning.


“Life is about progress and giving everyone a life in the future that is better,” Bushnell said. He believes goods will be cheaper, transportation will be faster, and there will be more vacations, better health care, more efficient education and shorter work hours.

Advice to Entrepreneurs

Bushnell asked the audience, “How many times have you started a company?” which he defined as “being paid directly by a customer and not a boss” and yes, lemonade stands did count. His advice to budding student entrepreneurs in the audience:

  • Do not start a company with only one idea. You need a lot of ideas because matching your ideas with the right people at the right time is key. After all, entrepreneurship is matching land, labor and capital and bringing the right team together.
  • For all your ideas, write business plans. Keep them brief and succinct (three to four pages) and be sure to include market size and customer demographics.
  • Only start a company if you can start it with zero dollars. He suggested making a concise two-sided sell sheet, sign up a customer and building the product via outsourcing. “Starting a company and being an entrepreneur is primarily about being able to do the deal,” Bushnell asserted.
  • Get ideas by going to every trade show in Los Vegas for a month to get an overview of what is going on in the marketplace. Ask yourself, “What idea in one industry can I take and apply to another industry?”
  • Find something that a few people will want, instead of something that has mass-market appeal, so you can play under the radar and not get knocked off by large companies.
  • Keep your mind flexible.
  • Play chess. It is an analogy to entrepreneurship. Good entrepreneurs know scenario outcomes. Chess teaches you strategy and to think about reactions to different scenarios.
  • Hire and surround yourself with people that are full of life and think out of the box – not clerks or zombies.

Unfortunately, Bushnell ran out of time and ended his presentation with these parting words of advice: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”