Meet the woman who 'split up Elon Musk and Sergey Brin's friendship'

From food stamps to the world’s richest men: Meet the woman who ‘broke up Elon Musk and Sergey Brin’s years-long friendship’

  • Nicole Shanahan, 37, is said to have had a brief affair with Elon Musk at Art Basel, an arts festival in Miami, in December of last year
  • The affair reportedly prompted her Google co-founder husband, Sergey Brin, to file for divorce from Shanahan in January
  • It also ended the long-term friendship between Musk and Brin
  • Shanahan is now asking for $1 million in the divorce – a far cry from what she had as a child when she lived off food stamps
  • She has spoken about growing up to two unemployed parents – a father who was mentally ill and a Chinese immigrant mother
  • Shanahan said those years taught her to be resourceful, and she has since gone on to found an AI-patent company and an investment firm 

The woman who allegedly broke up Elon Musk and Sergey Brin’s years-long friendship grew up in poverty in the San Francisco Bay Area before becoming a lawyer and dating some of the world’s richest men.

Nicole Shanahan, 37, is  said to have had a brief affair with Musk at Art Basel, a multi-day art event in Miami, in December of last year, which prompted her Google co-founder husband to file for divorce in January.

Brin, who is estimated to have a net worth of $95 billion, cited ‘irreconcilable differences’ as the reason, but The Wall Street Journal on Sunday reported that it was Musk’s dalliance with Nicole that signaled the end of their marriage.

They were both in Miami for the art festival, at a time when Shanahan and Brin were reportedly already having marital problems due to the stress of COVID-19 and raising their 4-year-old daughter. 

Musk, meanwhile, had just separated from girlfriend Grimes.

Just about one month later, Brin filed for divorce – listing December 15 as their date of separation. He has also reportedly instructed his aides to take all of his investments out of Musk’s many companies.

Now, sources say Shanahan is asking for $1 million in her divorce – more than what she agree to in a prenup, but a far cry from what she had as a child, when she lived off food stamps and tried to help her two unemployed parents financially.

She has since been heralded as a ‘changemaker’ for the work she has done fighting for criminal justice reform, helping to improve the environment and researching women’s reproductive longevity.

Nicole Shanahan, 37, grew up on food stamps with two unemployed parents before she became an entrepreneur. She is pictured here in September at the Museum of Motion Pictures Opening Gala in Los Angeles

Shanahan is said to have had an affair with Tesla CEO Elon Musk when they were both at Art Basel, a multi-day art event in Miami, in December of last year. The affair reportedly led her husband, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, to file for divorce, and signaled an end to his friendship with Musk.

In an interview with Modern Luxury Magazine, Shanahan told of the struggles she faced as a child and how they led her to become an entrepreneur in her own right.

‘As a kid, I really had to figure out how the world works on my own,’ she said, explaining how her father was diagnosed with bipolar schizophrenia when she was young, and her mother was a Chinese immigrant trying to make it in America.

‘My dad was diagnosed with bipolar schizophrenia when I was 9, and my Chinese-born mom had only been in the US for two years when I was born,’ Shanahan recounted.

‘I had two unemployed parents for the majority of my childhood, so not only was there no money, there was almost no parental guidance,’ she continued, ‘and as you can imagine with a mentally ill father, there was a lot of chaos and fear.’

So, she said, she learned to make it on her own, bussing tables at the age of 12 and using the newfound Internet to help her succeed and apply for college and jobs.

‘I learned how to compete in really creative ways by making broken objects perform at levels beyond their perceived capacity.’

By 2003, she started attending the University of Puget Sound, where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics and Mandarin Chinese, according to her LinkedIn profile.

She then went on to study global intellectual property trade and Chinese law at the National University of Singapore in 2013, before starting law at Santa Clara University.

Shanahan has said her struggles growing up in poverty had led her to become resourceful

In 2020, she founded Bia-Echo, an investment firm that pours money into organizations supporting reproductive longevity and equality; criminal justice reform; and preserving a healthy and livable planet

By the time she was in her early 20s, Modern Luxury reports, she got a job at RPX Corporation as a patent specialist, but she quit after just 10 months after she was sexually assaulted.

Shanahan said she then developed severe depression, quit law altogether and moved in with her aunt for a while.

But after a while, she was able to get her feet back on the ground – and even founded her own AI-enabled patent management company, ClearAccessIP, which she sold last year.

She has since devoted her time to Bia-Echo, an investment firm she founded that pours money into organizations supporting reproductive longevity and equality; criminal justice reform; and preserving a healthy and livable planet, according to its website. 

Shanahan had earlier supported these goals through her husband’s organization, the Sergey Brin Family Foundation, but started working on these goals herself in 2020, when she founded the foundation.

It has since partnered with the Buck Center for Reproductive Longevity and Equality and the National University of Singapore’s Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine to establish the Bia-Echo Asia Centre for Reproductive Longevity and Equality, where scientists are researching women’s fertility.

It is also working on ways to promote soil health and make farming carbon neutral.

And in addition, Shanahan has worked as an academic fellow of Code X, the Stanford Center of Legal Informatics – a joint center between Stanford Law School and Computer Science – where she launched the Smart Prosecution project, a multi-disciplinary effort applying data science to the prosecutorial process with partnerships between district attorneys and community organizations.

Her goal, she says, is to create a ‘legacy of ideas.

‘I want my legacy to be one of ideas,’ she said. ‘I want it to be about evolving the human experience on this planet in an abundant way.

‘I want it to be one of strength and love and compassion. I want it to be one of working hard, learning from one’s mistakes, and of personal growth.’

Shanahan had met Brin – the eighth richest man in the world – at a yoga retreat in 2015, and the two were married in a private ceremony on November 7, 2018

In her personal life, Shanahan was married to a finance executive before she met and married Brin – the eighth richest man in the world – at a yoga retreat in 2015.

They were then married at a low-key wedding ceremony on November 7, 2018, according to the Economic Times. 

They later welcomed a daughter into the world after suffering years of fertility issues, which Shanahan has spoken publicly about.

‘Like many women who are not quite ready to start a family in their early 30s, I decided, or so I thought at the time, to take matters into my own hands and freeze embryos,’ she told Page Six in 2019. 

‘However, after three failed attempts at embryo-making and three dozen visits to in vitro fertilization clinics around the Bay Area, I learned that I was not nearly as unshakable as I thought I was.’

But by January, Brin filed for divorce from his wife of four years after allegedly finding out about her dalliance with Musk.

He cited ‘irreconcilable differences’ in divorce papers but asked for the docket to be sealed to protect his young daughter. 

The Google founder is now asking to share custody of her as part of the divorce arrangements, which they are fighting to keep private out of fear that their daughter will be put at risk of ‘harassment’ or ‘kidnapping’. 

Musk had been friends with Brin for years prior to the alleged affair, and Brin even gave Musk $500,000 to fund Tesla at the height of the financial crisis in 2008. They are pictured here with Larry Page in the early 2000s

Shanahan’s affair brought an abrupt end to Elon and Sergey’s years-long friendship.

The two tech moguls were spotted together several times in the early 2000s, and in 2008, Sergey gave $500,000 in funding to Tesla at the height of the financial crisis. 

Elon has also spoken fondly of crashing at Sergey’s homes. 

At a party after Sergey filed for divorce, Musk is said to have run into him and begged for his forgiveness.

Publicly, he accepted his apology but the two – who were once close friends – are no longer on regular speaking terms, the Journal’s sources say. 

Brin has now reportedly ordered his aides to sell his multiple interests in Musk’s many businesses.

Musk has not yet commented on the allegations. 

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