Ainger keynotes OEI graduation ceremonies

Saturday, August 18, 2012
The Aug. 5-10 Okoboji Entrepreneurial Institute concluded with graduation ceremonies Friday at Okoboji's Pearson Lakes Art Center. Thirty-two students attending Iowa colleges had a chance to mingle with business mentors. Genova Technologies President and CEO Dawn Ainger was the keynote speaker at Friday's luncheon. (Photo by Russ Mitchell)

"Today's curse is tomorrow's blessing," Genova Technologies President and CEO Dawn Ainger told a group of 32 students who attended the seventh annual Okoboji Entrepreneurial Institute.

The Aug. 5-10 event took place at various venues throughout the Iowa Great Lakes and concluded with graduation ceremonies for 32 college students Friday at the Pearson Lakes Art Center in Okoboji.

The institute drew students from five Iowa colleges and universities. Friday's luncheon gave attendees a chance to sit next to, and talk to, business leaders from throughout northwest Iowa.

Ainger also has northwest Iowa ties, but attained much of her success in eastern Iowa. The keynote speaker grew up in a family of Sioux County dairy farmers and graduated with highest distinction with a master's degree in computer science from the University of Iowa.

A divorce left her on her own to raise young sons and forced her to relocate. She eventually became a software engineer in Cedar Rapids. She came to work one day to find her employer's doors locked.

That day's curse became a blessing: She started buying Genova stock and moved a staff of nine employees to a former pharmacy location.

Don't be an entrepreneur to "have the title, be the boss or have a lush life," Ainger told Institute students. "You must be passionate about wanting to succeed," she said.

Another piece of advice she shared: "Try it, tweak it, try it, tweak it." Ainger eliminated some of the lavish executive expenses that were responsible for Genova's struggles. The decisions allowed her to grow the Genova staff to about 25 employees.

The time for another tweak arrived when the dot-com bubble burst. Genova saw competition from the foreign workforce emerge and the Sept. 11 attacks on America put a chill on the economy. Ainger adjusted by leaving Iowa and developing a client list on the East Coast. Her company began working with federal Medicare and Medicaid systems. The company provided continuing education for defense contractors and healthcare professionals. The company expanded to a workforce of 100 employees.

Ainger was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis but has turned the adversity into another blessing. She brought in a management team to oversee operations at the software engineering and information technology company. The decision led to growth and another 50 percent increase in staff. Genova Technologies has offices in Maryland and maintains its headquarters in Cedar Rapids. The company remains a leading provider of customized software and training for federal government agencies, the healthcare industry and Fortune 500 companies.

The 32 students in Ainger's audience came from the University of Iowa, University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State University as well as Buena Vista University and Iowa Lakes Community College.

Students participated in an entrepreneurial simulation, attended seminars with successful entrepreneurs and picked up networking tips from business and community leaders throughout the week.

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