What was the motivation for Dawn Ainger to take a leap from being a software engineer at Genova Technologies in Cedar Rapids, to being its president and CEO? “Not having a job.”
As a single mother of three and a rare female in a male-dominated profession, Ainger had already overcome a few obstacles before that day in 1998 when she and her colleagues arrived at Genova to find the doors locked. “The owner had gone broke,” she said. Instead of giving up and starting over, Ainger went to the investors with an offer. “I started buying stock and bought the company. It took me about seven years but I doubled their money and bought one hundred percent of Genova.”
It wasn’t part of the plan. Ainger’s original goal was to be an architect, but circumstances took her on a different path. She had worked briefly for a computer science professor at a small college who had a side business teaching businesses how to use the “new-fangled” personal computer, and discovered she had a knack for it. “I found I was good at interpreting between computer science people and ‘normal’ people.” So, when she began thinking about where to focus her energies, she thought, “you know, this computer science thing could turn into something someday.”
Genova Technologies is a leading provider of custom software development and staff augmentation for government agencies and Fortune 500 companies, notably the defense industry. At its peak last year, Genova had more than 150 employees nationwide. Last summer, the healthcare branch of the company was sold, and now it’s back to a cozy 40 employees, some of them the same people that walked up to those locked doors in 1998.
In addition to her leadership role at Genova, Ainger serves on the Board of Directors of the National Defense Industry Association (NDIA), Women in Defense and Iowa Information Technology Council. Ainger sits on the board of the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) and is also a member of the board’s Technology Commercialization Committee (TCC).
“The TCC is a committee that looks at technical investments for the state,” Ainger said. “We go through applications requesting state funds and award loans and grants, then report that activity back to the IEDA.” The Iowa Innovation Corporation’s monitoring program helps the
TCC stay informed on the progress companies are making as a result of their awards. The IICorp
visits each company in person after awards are posted, and maintains quarterly contact to help
assist companies with ongoing needs.
Because Ainger has been through the ups and downs of growing a small company, she is a
natural fit for helping other startups through her work with the IEDA. “At Genova, we certainly
appreciate the funding and support we have gotten from the IEDA. It has helped us to grow,
and I enjoy being part of the process that can help other businesses do the same.”
Woman in a Man’s World
Ainger holds BS and MS degrees in computer science from the University of Iowa, and from her
earliest days as a student there, knew she was in a field dominated by men. With patience, she
has proven herself, and has made some observations.
“Women’s brains are wired differently than men’s,” Ainger said. “Women have more synapses
crossing both hemispheres, which gives us the ability to see from end to end the path that
needs to be taken.” Ainger sees herself as a good communicator, which is crucial in all
businesses. “But I don’t get into the grinding details like our engineers; they will did and dig
until they have an answer.” Ainger believes technology is a growing field for women.
One of the keys to success, Ainger says, is to “look at yourself and see what you’re good at, and
what you’re not so good at. Then fill those gaps. There is no such thing as a strength or
weakness, only personality traits. Understand your own personality traits and position yourself