Ansari Investment Takes Off
For one Mason family, the sky is not the limit
By Colleen Kearney Rich, MFA '95
The Dallas Morning News called them "consummate risk-takers" when they nominated the Ansari family of Plano, Texas, for Texan of the Year in December. "They've used their good fortune in business to inspire and underwrite the dreams of other visionaries," the newspaper lauded.
Three years ago, the Ansaris put up a few million dollars to keep a dream alive. The dream belonged to the Ansari X Prize Foundation, which would award $10 million to any civilian business that could send an astronaut into space and bring him or her back safely. In October 2004, SpaceShipOne and its mother ship, White Knight, did just that over the Mojave Desert.
Amir Ansari, BS Computer and Electrical Engineering '90, told reporters that the launch was difficult to describe: "You could see the contrail headed almost straight up, all the way to 69 miles high. Thousands of people were screaming and crying and chanting, 'Go, go, go.' You could sense history was being made."
Amir's sister-in-law, Anousheh Ansari, BS Computer and Electrical Engineering '89, has always had her eyes on the stars. "As a child I looked at the stars and dreamed of being able to travel into space," said Anousheh. "As an adult, I understand that the only way this dream will become a reality is with the participation of private industry and the creative passion of smart entrepreneurs. The Ansari X Prize has provided the perfect vehicle to ignite the imagination and passion of fellow entrepreneurs, giving them and their courageous pilots a platform for success."
Anousheh couldn't speak English when she immigrated to the United States from Iran in 1984 at the age of 16, but she hoped that living in the United States would help her realize her dream of becoming an astronaut. She enrolled at Mason where she met Amir and his brother, Hamid, whom she would marry in 1991.
In 1993, Anousheh convinced the brothers to quit their jobs, cash out their stock, and start their own telecommunications company. By 1996, their company, Telecom Technologies Inc., was the fifth fastest-growing technology company in Dallas. By 1999, Ernst and Young had named Anousheh an Entrepreneur of the Year. A year later, Working Woman magazine recognized her with its Entrepreneurial Excellence Award. Eight years and three U.S. patents later, the Ansaris sold the company for $750 million.
Still the Ansaris are keeping busy. They've started a venture capital firm called Prodea based in Richardson, Texas, and they haven't given up their dream of space travel. Their contribution to the Ansari X Prize guarantees them seats on one of the first 10 commercial space flights.
Twenty six teams from seven countries registered to compete for the X Prize. Authors Tom Clancy and Arthur C. Clarke were among the celebrities contributing to the award. Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic has already contracted with Mojave Aerospace Ventures, makers of SpaceShipOne, for a SpaceShipTwo. Virgin Galactic hopes to begin offering flights in 2008 and at a cost of about $200,000 a passenger.
For more information on the Ansari X Prize, check out the web site at www.xprize.org. To book passage on SpaceShipTwo, visit Virgin Galactic's web site at www.virgingalactic.com.