Val Miftakhov *03 was born in the USSR, and though he was a gifted physics student at the Moscow Institute for Physics and Technology, the Soviet collapse meant there were few professional opportunities. So Miftakhov arrived at Princeton in 1997 as a graduate physics student, a journey that took him to Silicon Valley in time for the tech boom, which led him to his current endeavor. “We are going to decarbonize aviation,” says Miftakhov of his new venture, ZeroAvia, which had its first test flights last year.
Miftakhov arrived on campus in 1997 and stayed for a year before moving to California to conduct research by helping to lead Princeton’s part in a high-energy physics experiment based at the Stanford Linear Accelerator. In keeping with the zeitgeist, he spent the second half of his graduate years balancing schoolwork with running a dot-com startup.
After the dot-com bust, Miftakhov worked in marketing and sales for six years at McKinsey, advising companies’ marketing decisions using streams of data.
Next, he oversaw product incubation at Google for six years. But in 2013, he began creating the first open-source electric-vehicle charging station called JuiceBox, which helps manage the power load on a grid as more and more electric cars start plugging in. He sold that company in 2017 and has since shifted to airplanes.
Miftakhov, who is also a pilot, has devised a zero-carbon-emitting, hydrogen-fueled electric powertrain that can run flights up to 500 miles. “We are going to fly a commuter aircraft, and then go up in size and distance,” he says. Within a decade, he hopes to build a craft with 50 to 100 seats. He sees his planes reinvigorating small regional airports, making travel to precise destinations cheaper and cleaner. Miftakhov is one of five aviation CEOs on U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Jet Zero Council, which aims to develop the world’s first zero-emissions jet.
Lessons learned: “Trust in yourself, take risks, and focus on visible results.”
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