Entrepreneur Credits Mason for his Success with a ‘Surprising’ Degree

Ali Reza Manouchehri. Photo courtesy of College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Ali Reza Manouchehri. Photo courtesy of College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

By Buzz McClain

When young Ali Reza Manouchehri found out his friend was getting an allowance, he asked his father for one.

“When my father finished laughing about an allowance, he taught me how to buy and sell stuff,” Manouchehri said.

An order of bulk pencils and pens sold door-to-door at their Falls Church, Va., apartment complex helped him turn $500 into $1,100.

“After that, business never really challenged me.”

Growing up in a blue-collar household, Manouchehri learned that effort equals value.

“You learned the hard way of what it takes to sweep floors and wash dishes and learn to earn yourself a place without having entitlements,” he said.

Since graduating from Mason in 1999, Manouchehri has founded two successful Northern Virginia companies: the federal contracting firm MetroStar Systems Inc. and his newest venture, Zoomph, a social media startup with clients including several Washington professional sports teams.

But when he came to George Mason University to study for a degree, a business major wasn’t on his radar. In fact, he earned a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy—“pre-Socratic philosophy,” he notes—with a concentration in religious studies.

He took philosophy as a required class as an undeclared freshman and enjoyed it. Subsequent philosophy classes taught by Mason professor Rose Cherubin hooked him.

“She’s still there, and she’s an amazing woman,” he said. “And three years went by and I said, ‘Hey, I’ve got to graduate in something,’ so it was philosophy.

“I enjoyed it, and I use it everyday.”

MetroStar and Zoomph are founded on hard sciences—they used web-based, big data research to help clients achieve goals—but are balanced by humanities, a concept Socrates would approve of.

“We recruit out of Mason’s science and technology side of the house—there are a lot of Mason people here—and we have a lot of engineers because of what we do,” he said. They also recruit from Mason’s design, [and] human factor and applied cognition programs as well, he added.

“What’s important about human capital is the diversity of human capital: If I put a bunch of engineers together, I’m going to know what the outcome is. If I put an anthropologist, an engineer, a psychologist and a visual designer together, I’m going to build something inspiring. That’s what we do.”

Manouchehri remains in contact with Mason’s Philosophy Department “and has given generously to our department,” said department chairman Ted Kinnaman. He supports the program with an internship and by sponsoring a logic course that prepares students for the internship. He was named the department’s outstanding alumnus in 2012 for his endeavors.

“His wonderful combination of intelligence, enthusiasm, creativity, humor and passion for justice were evident from the beginning,” Cherubin said. “I am glad to have had the opportunity to be part of the university that fostered his development into the accomplished entrepreneur, community leader and philanthropist that he is today.”