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From skeptical to booming

Before the birth of Cindy Tysinger's woman-owned, multimillion-dollar IT firm GSATi, she remembers being the chief information officer and senior vice president of information technology at marketing firm Mannatech.

She was skeptical of being the only female executive in the company, and once it sold to a larger company, her skepticism grew. So she decided to do things her own way: She went to start her own business.

The staff of GSATi -- which started at Tysinger's home in Denton, with her two sons and a collection of employees who worked with her at Mannatech -- pride themselves on the IT firm's familial mindset. GSATi employs staff from five states and four countries, with multilingual team members to negotiate with clients worldwide.

"Diversity is very important to us. It's one of our highest values our culture is based upon," Tysinger said. "The proudest thing I've seen in this culture is this family. We call everybody family."

Since 2009, there's been a 192 percent increase in loan dollars for woman-owned businesses across the county, said Darla Booker, regional communications director for the Small Business Association. The boom is statewide, with Texas ranked No. 2 for woman-owned businesses in the country.

With the numbers increasing, support is too. In 2010, the Denton Chamber of Commerce started the Women in Commerce group, looking to support its female members.

"The chamber felt, given that we have so many women contributing great things to our community, that we needed a place to develop more women leaders," said Angelica Del Rosal, director of membership and programs for the chamber. "Even though we don't necessarily zero in on other particular segments, we did feel that it was justified given the potential."

As the group, known as WINC, has established itself, Del Rosal says there are plans to grow its influence. Over the past seven years, the group has focused on providing training, networking and professional development resources. Soon, it hopes to add another component: mentorship.

"It will be a great chance for those women who have been in their careers for a considerable amount of time to ... basically put themselves out on a platform as a support," she said.

Tysinger is a member of the WINC committee, working to foster the woman-owned business community.

In the years since she started in her Denton home, GSATi has upgraded. Its offices are now perched on the second floor of the Texas Building on West Oak Street thanks to its leader's will to beat the odds. Tysinger remembers how women working in technology through the 1970s and '80s were virtually nonexistent -- much less in leadership positions.

Tysinger didn't let that impact her. She developed a passion for all things tech growing up. She has a strong sense of patriotism meshed with that passion, as many of Tysinger's family members enlisted in the military. She often would go to her father's base to observe and help work on equipment at the age of 11.

Her official foray into the industry came when she joined the Department of Defense and Civil Service at the age of 16 as a programmer, and she helped design a collection of weapons. A constantly fluctuating work agenda embodied her simple answer to why she loves technology so much -- change.

"It's always evolving and moving forward," Tysinger said. "My desire was always to make life easier. There's everyday tech, then the benefits of the military side of tech to position the U.S. strongly. I hate routine work and get bored easily."

Her gender, nevertheless, has always been a talking point.

As a 22-year-old, she managed a team of 80 engineers part of the Hughes Aircraft Ground Systems Group in the Department of Defense and Civil Service.

Tysinger was the first woman to run an engineering division in data management for Hughes Aircraft, and nearly all of her 80 engineers were men. Tysinger was influential in developing confidential software that would go on to win awards and help push computer usage throughout the entire military.

"I broke through a lot of glass ceilings for women pretty quickly as a result of being willing to do whatever it took," Tysinger said.

Aspiring female entrepreneurs in Denton can follow Tysinger's footsteps with resources available to them at the Texas Woman's University Center for Women in Business.

Annie Phillips, interim executive director of the Center for Women in Business, said the center emphasizes working with existing resources in the city of Denton to maximize impact.

Methods the center uses to propel women include a variety of scholarships to get business ideas off the ground. A variety of workshops and seminars help women and anybody in the community get hold of the ropes.

"We look at what support we can provide for the community, being a university here in Denton," Phillips said. "It's a part of our role as students to support the community, and we try to see where the gaps are to fill for women starting businesses."

As the Center for Women in Business is slightly more than a year old, Phillips said the center is still in the benchmarking phase to see what works and what doesn't. It doesn't make sense to duplicate resources that are already available to aspiring Denton entrepreneurs, so she and fellow counselors in the program continually strive to try new efforts, gauging them as they go.

Funding is given to researchers at TWU who produce findings the center can incorporate moving forward.

Women tend to start business ventures with less capital than men. With that in mind, the center encourages women to start collecting capital for new ventures early on in order to not merely settle for a source of income.

Simply put, staff members at the center encourage entrepreneurs to think big.

"Part of this is really helping women ask for more and take risks, to put themselves out there and not be as hesitant," Phillips said. "Women are socialized differently than men, but we have to embrace these behaviors that might be considered typical for men."

MATT PAYNE can be reached at 940-566-6845 and via Twitter at @MattePaper.

JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.