By Phillip Kurata, Staff Writer, IIP Digital (Managed by the U.S. Department of State)
entrepreneur and space tourist
Washington - “If you have a crazy idea and other people tell you it is crazy, then you know that you are on the right track.” That advice to aspiring entrepreneurs comes from an Iranian-American woman who has made a fortune starting and running technology companies.
Anousheh Ansari came to the United States as a teenager in 1984, unable to speak English but having a fascination with space and a passion for math and science. Growing up in Iran, she gazed at the “night sky full of stars, wondering who was out there.” For her, the mystery of life was in space, and a dream to travel there took root in her.
“Not many people believed me,” she said. “They thought, 'Well, she’s going to grow up and grow out of this.' They didn’t know me,” she said at the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology in 2011.
Studying at universities in the Washington area, Ansari earned degrees in computer science and electrical engineering. In 1993, she persuaded her husband, Hamid, and brother-in-law Amir Ansari to take their savings and found Telecom Technologies Inc. In 2001, they sold it to Sonus Networks Inc. for $750 million. Ansari stayed on as a vice president running one of its divisions.
In 2004, Ansari and brother-in-law Amir donated $10 million to a competition, renamed the Ansari X Prize in their honor, to build the first commercial space vehicle. In 2006, Anousheh was offered the chance to travel to the International Space Station for a ticket price of about $20 million. Her childhood dream had come true. “Chance favors the prepared mind. Always be prepared and look for opportunities,” she said. Throughout her life she had taken training opportunities for the possibility that one day she would be a space traveler.
In the same year that she went to the space station, she co-founded Prodea Systems Inc., a company that manufactures devices that make high-tech products easier to use. She also began to channel her entrepreneurial drive into space-related ventures.
Prodea Systems formed a partnership with Space Adventures Ltd. and the Federal Space Agency of the Russian Federation to create a fleet of space vehicles for commercial use. She sees space as a resource where solar power will be gathered and beamed back to Earth, where new medicines will be developed in a weightless environment, where valuable minerals will be mined and shipped back to Earth.
She has gone on to get another academic degree, in astronomy, while her accolades as an entrepreneur pile up. Among them: the Horatio Alger Award, the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award for the Southwest region of the United States, World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, and the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, to name a few.
She said that success as an entrepreneur begins with a dream, then you mix in passion and determination. “That’s when you take your first step to becoming an entrepreneur,” she said.
“Dreamers are those who change the world,” Ansari said. “There was a time when people didn’t believe that computers would be dominating our lives. There were dreamers in their garages who were thinking of a world that would be different, where people would have access to incredible computing power. Today, we don’t know how we would live without our Blackberries or our iPads.”
Ansari says that imagination is what sets humans apart from other beings. “We can think of things that do not exist at this time. Because we can imagine them, we can make them come true,” she said.
Ansari cautions the aspiring entrepreneur not to get caught up in the romance of starting and running a business. “It’s a tough journey and a long journey,” she said. “It takes a lot of guts. Be prepared for sleepless nights when you don’t have money to meet payroll.”
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