Company: Genova Technologies
Year Founded: 1993; Ainger took over management in 1998 and bought Genova in 2001.
Headquarters: Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Annual Revenue: $32 million
What It Does: A software company that provides software development, project management, and requirements analysis to customers nationwide.
When Dawn Ainger arrived at work one day in 1998, she was dismayed to find that the doors to Genova Technologies were locked and the owner was filing for bankruptcy. With three young boys to raise, the single mother didn’t want to leave her job as a software engineer. So she persuaded the remaining investors to let her run the software services company herself.
“In any career, you have to decide what you’re better at, stress or frustration. They are both going to occur,” says Ainger, now Genova Technologies’ president and CEO. “When you aren’t in control, you have to live with the decisions that are made. I wanted to have control over the financial stability and direction of the company. I was better at that.”
The investors agreed to let Ainger give it a go, and she wasted no time making major changes. First up was stopping the previous owner’s spendthrift ways; she cut expenses and moved the company out of posh offices into more spartan surroundings.
Ainger also shifted Genova’s focus from a software development generalist to a specialist in two vertical markets: health care and defense. For those industries, Genova concentrates on wireless communications and client software needs.
This focus primed Genova for growth and helped outsmart rivals. When Ainger bought out Genova’s investors in 2001, the company faced stiff competition from global outsourcing. She homed in on sectors like the government, where international companies can’t compete, since providers must be American-owned and based in the United States. In addition to government work, Genova also provides communications software and consulting for Fortune 500 companies.
A key early project Ainger landed involved helping Medicare retool its existing systems to reimburse hospitals that provided medical care to people caught illegally crossing the United States-Mexico border. (Previously, Medicare benefits were unavailable to this population.) “The hospitals said they were going to go out of business taking care of people brought to their ERs,” Ainger says. “We helped Medicare figure out a system in a short amount of time by asking the right questions and making them work for a new functionality.”
Her strategy paid off, and Genova grew into a profitable company.
Through it all, Ainger led the company in the midst of her own challenges, including a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. She brings a penchant for understanding clients’ future needs while emphasizing collaboration with competitors. One of Ainger’s core philosophies is hiring employees with “attitude, aptitude, and integrity—the three things you cannot give someone. They either have them or they don’t.”
A committed philanthropist, Ainger serves on many nonprofit boards. She also started a free day camp that offers latchkey kids music and swimming lessons, reading help, and more, and she donates wireless laptops to people with MS and to veterans.