In the late ’70s, as the Iranian revolution evolved into war with Iraq, Anousheh Ansari was a teenager with a head for math and science. When she graduated high school, Ansari knew that while she could pass the academic exams to attend university in Iran, she would fail the other tests: religious background (though she is Muslim) and devotion to the political regime. More than a decade after her family first petitioned for green card status, she migrated to Virginia. She studied electrical engineering, the first of many forays into a male-dominated field. In 2010, still just 11 percent of engineers were female.
“I had received resistance, whether it was at work or in school or later on, when I pursued space,” Ansari says. “I just tried to be the best I can be and prove everyone wrong.”
Ansari and her husband started their first company, Telecom Technologies, Inc., in 1992. Most of their clients were in Richardson, the Telecom Corridor rising from the real estate boom and bust, though the city’s tech-friendly roots stretch back to the 1950s. The Ansaris moved to Plano in 1993, selling the company for $750 million in 2001. The money from the sale allowed her to travel to the International Space Station in 2006, as a self-funded citizen aboard a Russian spacecraft.
But Ansari wasn’t finished. The same year she went to space, she started Prodea Systems, a company that integrates technologies for home or business. Thanks to resources like UTD, a concentration of telecom and engineering operations, and a reasonable cost of living, it’s easy for Ansari to recruit and keep top talent. In 2013, North Texas employed 216,753 people in high-tech jobs, according to the Metroplex Technology Business Council.
“Silicon Valley is great, but it’s a revolving door,” Ansari says.
With Prodea, Ansari believes they’ve identified the fatal flaw in our hyper-connected lives. When a digital link breaks, it falls to the consumer to troubleshoot the problem, even though the consumer is probably the least well-equipped. Prodea will shoulder that burden.
“It was really an ambitious goal that we set for ourselves, but we like ambitious goals,” Ansari says. “We like to be on the edge of building something new and disruptive.”