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Theresa Szczurek

Entrepreneur Szczurek makes Polish wish come true

4/7/2002 3:00:00 PM
By Todd Neff
In February, Theresa Szczurek was the keynote speaker at a conference in Warsaw, Poland, in which business and government luminaries explored ways for the country to bolster its economy through better support of entrepreneurial and established ventures.
Szczurek was well qualified for the task.

• She is an accomplished technologist, having begun her career designing and optimizing PBX systems at Bell Labs.

• She is an entrepreneur, having co-founded Radish Communications Systems in 1990 with Richard Davis, her husband and a former Bell Labs engineer. They grew the company to 60 employees before selling it in 1996 to Natick, Mass.-based SystemSoft for about $40 million.

•She is on the Colorado Techn-ology Incubator’s (CTI) advisory board.

•She is an independent consultant and budding motivational speaker, and is working on a book.

Szczurek is also, in her words, “100 percent pure-bred Polish.”

Her maternal grandmother, Antonette, grew up in a village called Wolakosnowa, situated amid rolling countryside two hours south of Krakow, according to Szczurek. She visited her ancestral home on her recent trip. “The farm was very small and they were very poor,” Szczurek said.

Shortly after World War I, Antonette left Poland, traveling alone to the United States and carrying a single trunk. She was 15 when she landed in Chicago’s Polish community, finding work as a chambermaid at Chicago’s Palmer House Hotel.

Antonette soon met the man she would marry. He had grown up in a village two miles from Wolakos-nowa and was working at the Palmer House as well. Szczurek credits the roots of her own entrepreneurial instincts to them.

Szczurek moved from her parents’ Chicago-area home through an education that includes two master’s degrees and a doctorate.

In 1984, Szczurek left AT&T International, where she had transferred
from Bell Labs to market the PBX systems she had helped design at Bell. She founded Technology and Management Solu-tions as she commenced her doctorate program at the University of Colorado.

Szczurek finished the program in 1989 and began brainstorming startup ideas with Davis, a former colleague still with Bell Labs. Before the commercialization of the Internet, Davis had invented a means of transmitting voice and data through a single phone line. “He was the technology visionary; I was more on the business side,” Szczurek said.

Not long after the sale of Radish, Szczurek was speaking to a local group when someone asked her what she would do next. “I said that, at some point, I’d really like to take my entrepreneurial experience and help Poland and Eastern Europe,” she recalled saying.

Szczurek’s recent trip to Poland came after a Polish delegation, sponsored by the CTI and the state’s Colorado Institute of Technology, visited Colorado last summer. She did a presentation about incubation and what she’d learned from her experiences with Radish to that group.

In both instances, Szczurek was able to combine two of her interests: economic development and encouraging people to pursue what she calls their “passionate purpose,” a research study of which she is currently turning into a book.

For Szczurek, working in Poland is an example of passionate purpose at work. “Lo and behold, six years (after mentioning it to the group), I’m doing it.”

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