Nicole Shanahan, the Woman at the Center of the Musk-Brin Rift

Silicon Valley entrepreneur and philanthropist Nicole Shanahan emerged this weekend at the center of a rift between two of the world’s richest men, Sergey Brin and Elon Musk.

Shanahan and Brin have been married for over three years but announced in June they plan to divorce, citing “irreconcilable differences.” The Wall Street Journal reported this weekend that Musk and Shanahan had an extramarital affair, an allegation that Musk has since denied.

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Shanahan and Brin signed a prenuptial agreement and are currently negotiating the terms of their divorce, in which she seeks more than $1 billion, according to the report. That could put the settlement of her divorce in the same league as those of billionaire philanthropists MacKenzie Scott and Melinda Gates.

Now an attorney and a research fellow at CodeX, the Stanford Center for Legal Informatics, Shanahan founded ClearAccessIP, a Palo Alto-based firm that helps patent owners manage and monetize their intellectual property rights. It was acquired by rival IPwe in 2020.


Sergey Brin and Nicole Shanahan arrive at the 2018 Breakthrough Prize at NASA Ames Research Center on December 3, 2017 in Mountain View, California.

Miikka Skaffari/Getty Images

A daughter of Chinese immigrants, Shanahan has talked about her mother, who worked as a maid, and growing up on public assistance. According to her LinkedIn profile, she graduated from the University of Puget Sound in Washington State, where she studied economics, Asian studies and Mandarin Chinese. She earned her law degree at Santa Clara University, doing a stint as an exchange student at the National University of Singapore.

In 2019, Shanahan started her own foundation, Bia-Echo, and pledged $100 million to reproductive longevity—access to medical technologies that help women bear children later in life—and criminal justice reform, along with other issues. She is also a supporter of left-leaning organizations and Democratic political candidates.

“I want to get the word out that and assure everyone that I am committed as ever to dedicating my life’s work to social justice, climate solutions and a thoughtful, caring democracy,” Shanahan said in an interview with Puck this month. “And I actually think that as I move forward out of this separation, I feel very optimistic in how I might grow in this role.”

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