Celebrities reinvent themselves all the time. In some cases, it’s to escape a scandal (cough, Robert Downey Jr., cough). In other cases, it’s to rise like a phoenix from the ashes of a ruined reputation (here’s lookin’ at you, Brittney Spears). Some celebrities just want to be taken more seriously (Adam Sandler in Reign Over Me, you are the reigning champion). Today, we’re highlighting five mega-stars who made brilliant use of their creativity, capital, and celebrity status by reinventing themselves into tech moguls. After all, music albums and movie roles come and go, but if there’s one thing we know with absolute certainty, it’s that an investment in technology makes a whole lot of business sense.
Actor, Product Engineer
Ashton’s role as Steve Jobs in the biographical movie, Jobs might have been a fine display of acting, but his education and experience as a product engineer is the real deal. Prior to his big acting break as the character Kelso in That 70’s Show, Kutcher studied biochemical engineering. The Hollywood mega-star has since used his fame to invest in tech businesses, including Uber, Spotify, and Shazam — but that’s not all. Kutcher also dabbles in computer programming. That’s right; he knows how to code. In 2009, Kutcher teamed up with his then-wife, Demi Moore, to co-found Thorn, a nonprofit organization that develops tools and technologies to help companies and authorities eliminate human trafficking and child sexual exploitation. In 2013, he took his IT skills a step further when Chinese computer maker, Lenovo, hired Kutcher as a product engineer for its Yoga line of tablets, which features a built-in projector.
Model, Actress, Computer Programmer
Lyndsey Scott was the first African American model to sign a contract with Calvin Klein, but don’t let the “dumb model” stereotypes fool you. Scott is anything but vapid. In fact, she earned dual degrees in Theater and Computer Science and spends much of her time as Lead iOS Engineer for Rallybound, which enables her to write code and build mobile apps for non-profit foundations, including the Susan G. Komen Foundation, AIDS Walk, and Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. In addition to nonprofit coding and software development, Scott also builds mobile applications to help actors and actresses practice and remember their lines. She’s also a contributor to code.org, where she teaches introductory coding tutorials. Code.org aims to expand children’s access to computer science education and increases participation by young women and students in underserved communities. If you read our two-part series on women in technology, you know how jazzed we are about this mission. Check out the articles below.
Women in Tech: Part 1 – 4 Factors Prolonging the IT Skills Gender Gap
Women in Tech: Part 2 – An Untapped Market For IT Skills
Ja Rule (formerly known as Jeffrey Atkins)
Rapper, Actor, Software Founder
Fun Fact: Once upon a time, Ja Rule liked and replied to a Tweet sent by our director of marketing, Katy Bright. (Clearly, she knows how to engage an audience). Few celebrities have transformed themselves as many times as the “hardcore” rapper turned actor, Ja Rule. Truly, the man is an enigma. After a brief foray into talent booking for the infamous Fyre Festival, Ja Rule underwent a complete personal brand makeover and graduated from a four-week business program at the renowned Harvard University. Today, he is in hot pursuit of multiple tech investments. In 2020, he partnered with a team of software engineers to develop a mobile app ironically named, Iconn — a live streaming marketplace designed to connect celebrities, artists, athletes, and influencers with their biggest fans. Get it? I con…with Fyre Fest still looming in his recent past, the name is a bit of a zinger, but nonetheless earns a 5-star review in the Apple App Store. Ja Rule also co-founded Flipkick, a first-of-its-kind digital art platform that authenticates the selling of tangible art via a “cryptographically secure link” to an NFT. What can’t this blast from the early 2,000s past do?
Jeffrey Allen “The Skunk” Baxter
Musician, Producer, & Missile Defense Systems Consultant
You might know ”The Skunk” from the 1960’s music scene. Does Steely Dan or The Doobie Brothers ring a bell? Baxter spent the first half of his career as a guitarist for the iconic bands before going solo to strum alongside the musical stylings of Eric Clapton, Dolly Parton, Sheryl Crow, Ringo Starr, Carley Simon, Gene Simmons, Elton John, and a slew of others as a session guitarist. In the 1980s, his career in music recording technology heightened his curiosity and interest in hardware and software development. In a strange twist of fate, the guitarist began studying missile defense systems and eventually wrote a paper on the subject that caught the attention of the U.S. government. By the 1990s, he was working as a defense consultant for the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, the U.S. Department of Defense, and numerous other government agencies.
Actor, Environmentalist & Technology Investor
Leonardo DiCaprio *swoon* is one of the greatest actors and activists of our time. The movie Titanic might have launched his career, but what DiCaprio chose to do with his fame and fortune will become his true legacy. In 1998, just a year after his maiden voyage into colossal career success, DiCaprio started the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which dedicates resources to addressing urgent environmental and humanitarian issues. Not exactly a deep dive into technology — yet.
In the years to follow, DiCaprio would go on to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in various tech start-ups — all leading up to his most recent power-play that will finally bridge his penchant for environmental activism with advanced technology. The actor is said to have invested a “significant” amount in Struck Capital, a seed venture firm that intends to turn L.A. into the premier innovation and technology hub. More specifically, the firm funds visionary technologists as they innovate ways to solve the world’s largest problems, such as climate change and wildlife preservation.
Society looks to celebrities for inspiration on how to dress, what to think, and, of course, what constitutes entertainment. But rarely do we look to these creatives for business or career insight. These five celebrities aren’t the only ones securing their future success by tossing a hat into the technology ring. This summer, computer science skills are the new black.
Developing IT skills across your workforce and reinventing how your business operates is more affordable than you think. Download our Essential IT Skills Training Program Planner to learn more about how to develop and deploy a training and employee development program for IT upskilling.