Written by: 
Jessica DeLeón

Theresa Neil ('05 M.B.A.) had just quit her job to start a new business -- an agency for user experience design that drew on her education from UNT and experience at Sabre.

But she hit a problem.

Although she started with two start-ups for clients, she and her husband had run out of their savings a few months in.

"We were looking at bills," she says. "And we thought, ‘We're going to have to wait tables if we don't get paid soon.'"

The next day, one of those start-ups received funding. A few days later, so did the other start-up. Neil's business had $25,000.

"From that day on, I never looked back," she says. "It was growth every year."

And that company, Guidea, now boasts 20 employees, big-name clients such as Adobe, Dell and Google -- and a place on the list of Inc.'s 5000 Fastest Growing Companies. Neil is proud of the company for its innovative ways of creating apps and websites that help companies reach their clients. And, inspired by her time at the G. Brint Ryan College of Business, she's helping other women entrepreneurs.

Touching People's Lives

After years in corporate and agency environments, Neil started Guidea in Austin after she received her graduate degree.

"I wanted the independence to work with my clients in a way that I thought would best serve them and that was different from the traditional agency model," says Neil, who now lives in Santa Cruz, California.

Her motto was "Hire an Expert, Not an Agency" because she served the clients' needs, by delivering bespoke solutions instead of following a format from agencies that follows profitability and outcomes.

She was attracted to user design thanks to her job at Sabre. At the time, many companies were investing in the engineering aspects of technology, while she was interested in designing websites to make the user experience easier.

A few years after Guidea's launch, her big break came in 2008 when one of her previous managers asked her to spearhead PayPal's iPhone experience -- which she designed and developed in 30 days. That brought in dozens of referrals, including 20 Fortune100 companies.

Neil has launched a new program, Femovate, aimed at startups who are focusing on female-centric health issues. Her company is investing over $500,000 in business mentoring and UX services across 30 Femtech companies around the globe to improve women's health.

"We believe investing in female founders in healthcare will have a transformative impact on all women's health," Neil says.

Passing on Lessons

Neil also believes in making an impact on her staff's lives. And her inspiration for that came from an encounter during one of her classes at UNT, which she took while managing a new job and raising a newborn baby.

She couldn't help but notice that the classmate in front of her had amazing hair. When she mentioned that to him, he said he and his wife owned a local salon. As they got to talking, he mentioned that he often invested in his stylists by training them about the business.

She thought that was unusual -- and she incorporates his advice today by intentionally training her team on the business aspects of running a consultancy.

"That was my classmate's biggest gift to me," she says. "The idea that empowering his employees to be successful businesswomen benefited everyone."