Affinity Media President Alice Muntz has learned how to play hardball in the male-dominated engineering field. She has worked in companies where the only other women were secretaries and with bosses who said she didn't need equal pay because she wasn't the family breadwinner. But Muntz persevered.
Her 22-year career has taken her from programming terminals to corporate boardrooms, from Taiwan to the United States. Since immigrating in 1977, Muntz has worked on touch-screen products at Xerox, mainframe data analysis software at Teradata and real-time radar programming at Hughes.
In recent months, Muntz has worked to acquire venture capital for Affinity Media, a Web-based start-up that makes software for sharing information between computer systems.
Muntz's business concept was hatched at Hughes, where she worked on military contracts. She was struck by the problem of consolidating information from different mainframe systems--users were unable to correlate information in separate databases. Quick fixes, such as dumping data from one system to another, didn't work. So Muntz developed solutions by extracting fundamental rules from the application code.
Four years ago--frustrated that military-fed Hughes was resistant to developing commercial applications--she decided to start her own company. She believed that the Internet and integration software were the future.
"I thought, I still have some time to take a chance. If I fail, or succeed, it's my own decision," Muntz said. With her sister and two others, she formed Affinity.
Muntz's tenacity is rooted in her upbringing. Her family, which fled Communist China and settled in rural Taiwan, inspired Muntz to work hard and seek an education.
She earned a spot in Taiwan's top technical school, Chiao Tung University, whose alumni include noted computer founders An Wang of Wang and Stan Shih of Acer. She was among a handful of women in a school of 3,000.
"The first day I went, the whole campus looked up," Muntz said.
Years later, others continue to notice: Her company was one of 15 selected for the recent Southern California Venture Forum, which presented promising companies to private financiers.
"Alice never quits until her dream is fulfilled," said Peter Pao, a former boss and vice president of sensors and electronics at Raytheon. "Working with her is a lot fun. You can get in arguments with her, but there's never a dull moment."
Managing a start-up has been a challenge, Muntz acknowledged. "With a big corporation, the infrastructure is set up, and there's brand recognition," she said. "But now we're starting from scratch."
In the early days, Muntz and fellow founders worked out of her living room. Now that they've moved to new office space on Olympic Boulevard, they plan to reach more customers with software to be released this summer. Clients include the Air Force Medical Service Agency and the Defense Logistics Agency.
"My career has been a series of plateaus," Muntz said. "Now I'm climbing my Mt. Everest."
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AT A GLANCE
Name: Alice Muntz
Occupation: President of start-up software company
Company: Affinity Media Inc
Education: Bachelor's degree from Chiao Tung University, Taiwan; master's and doctoral degrees from USC