|Anousheh Ansari, B.S. '88, owns her own telecommunications company|
Anousheh Ansari, B.S. '88, knew that her options were few if she remained in Iran, especially after the Shah was overthrown in 1979 by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Despite her aptitude in mathematics and science, it would be next to impossible for her to study these subjects at an Iranian university because the new regime did not consider them suitable fields of study for women. Fortunately, the young girl had an aunt who lived in Northern Virginia, and her parents agreed to allow her to come to the United States in 1984, when she was 16 years old.
A lifelong fan of Star Trek, Ansari hoped that coming to the United States would help her fulfill her dream of becoming an astronaut. But even in the United States, being a woman can be a barrier, especially in male-dominated professions. In addition, she was an Iranian national, making it highly unlikely that she would ever be accepted into a profession that demanded high security clearances. So instead of pursuing a space program, she enrolled at George Mason University, where she studied electrical engineering and computer science.
She later received her master's degree at George Washington University while working full time at MCI, where she met Hamid Ansari, whom she married in 1991. Then, in 1993, Ansari suggested to her husband that together they resign from their jobs and start their own telecommunications business. But Hamid Ansari was reluctant. "Finally, I had to tell him: 'I'm going to start this business. You can either work with me or compete with me.' He decided to work with me," she says, smiling.
Her company, telecom technologies, inc., headquartered in Richardson, Tex., specializes in manufacturing a telecommunications device called the softswitch, which enables a single network to manage all kinds of communication traffic. Today, the different kinds of telecommunications traffic travel via different networks, she says. Take AT&T, for example. It has a network for wireless communication, one for local and long-distance service, and another network to convey Internet traffic. Ansari's product is a "brain" that can distinguish between the different kinds of traffic and control it accordingly, enabling firms like AT&T to have a single network rather than multiple ones. Telecom technologies is not the only firm that sells the softswitch. Part of what sets Ansari's firm apart from the others is that it works hard to ensure that its product can operate with the equipment from any manufacturer. Softswitches produced by some of Ansari's competitors can operate only with the equipment produced by certain manufacturers.
In 1999, telecom technologies received $25.5 million in revenue. Its rapid growth has garnered industry accolades since 1996, when it was ranked as the fifth fastest growing technology company in Dallas. In 1999, Texas Technology Magazine ranked the firm third in revenue growth for Texas-based technology companies.
Ansari attributes her company's success to its employees. "I don't believe a company's success can be achieved by only one person. I feel I had the right team in the company to get to where we are today."
But Ansari has received accolades of her own. She appeared on the cover of the May 2000 issue of Working Woman after being selected as the general excellence winner of the magazine's Entrepreneurial Excellence Award. In 1999, she was selected by Ernst and Young as the nation's Entrepreneur of the Year in technology and communications.
Such wild success at the age of 33 is so rare that Ansari often sees skepticism in the eyes of people she first meets who've been in the industry longer. "They don't believe you've accomplished all you say you've accomplished," she says. "They sort of put you to the test, but I think usually I come out of those tests with flying colors and earn their respect after a few sessions."
She attributes her personal success to her determination. "The fact that I had to leave everything behind, come to a country where I didn't speak the language, and restart from ground zero created the determination," she says. "I don't get down by failure. If something doesn't work, I find a way to work around it, over it, or under it.... Failure is not an option in my world."
As yet another proof
of her determination, Ansari is still committed to her dream of space
travel. In 2002, a private company plans to launch space shuttles with
paying passengers. Her husband and mother are concerned about the danger,
but Ansari is determined, and she's already applied.