Suzanne Joyce played a song on a mandolin-like backpacker’s guitar that she wrote for a musical called “Women in Missouri History.”
Joyce, the CEO of TechGuard Security, a cyberspace security company based in Chesterfield, was not addressing a group of musicians, but rather a roomful of female entrepreneurs Tuesday at the In Good Company Conference at MU’s Reynold’s Alumni Center.
It was the first time the conference, organized by the University Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Missouri Women’s Council, was held. Ninety women attended.
“We’ve seen what’s popular and what’s working and where there are kinks,” said Director of UCIE Mary Paulsell. “It turned out very well. We’ll keep growing it.”
Joyce gave the keynote address at a luncheon in between sessions on marketing, human resources, financing and personal development.
“Think big, and then think bigger,” Joyce said in her keynote address. “As big as you think you can be, think bigger than that because what you have created has value, and you just can’t begin to imagine the possibilities.”
Joyce told the story of her business and some of the lessons she learned along the way: there are more ways to finance a business than venture capital, use all resources available, build a team and empower them, and think big.
TechGuard is now a female-owned, $7 million business that creates products to secure computer and information technology. It works closely with defense and intelligence communities as well as the health and financial sectors.
In 2000, Joyce and her business partner, Andrea Johnson, started their business on two rounds of $200,000 donations from family and friends for research and development.
Joyce said that not relying on venture capitalists and getting the money through private donations allowed them to keep more control of the company.
TechGuard was poised to get several government contracts before Sept. 11 happened, but contracts weren’t offered after the attacks.
Losing the government contracts put the company in distress and they turned to the Small Business Development Center in St. Louis for help. “Another lesson I learned is to use your resources,” Joyce said. “We would not be here without an amazing number of resources we found along the way.”
The SBDC helped Joyce find a disaster loan from the Small Business Administration to keep her business afloat.
“It doesn’t always work,” said Max Summers, a St. Louis representative from the SBDC who attended Tuesday’s conference, “but it did in her case.”
He said the SBDC is an education-based organization that helps small businesses find the resources they need. Joyce said going to the SBDC was helpful because she had the loan program explained to her in person, instead of having to read a description on the internet.
The SBDC also helped her get a $1.4 million research grant, after she had tried on her own and had ben denied five times.
Joyce also said not all personality types are the same and diversity is the key to building a successful team.
“Another thing is to encourage innovation,” Joyce said. “It will bring you loyalty and outside-of-the-box thinking.”
The creative thinking led to “Great Walls of Fire,” TechGuard’s line of firewall products that uses artificial intelligence to identify hackers and Heuristic Internet Protocol Packet Inspection Engine, or HIPPIE, a program that controls what countries are allowed to access information.
Joyce said it is important for women in business to think big and think about expanding their businesses, because the business world lacks female role models.
Patricia Ahrens owns Ahrens Contracting Inc. in St. Louis. She attended Tuesday’s conference and said she thought Joyce was inspiring.
“I envisioned myself on a bigger construction site, of a size I’ve never thought of before,” Ahrens said.