Tech company CEO talks ‘gamblin’ on herself
By Val Hunt Beerbower
Taking risks isn’t always rewarded behavior, particularly in the tail end of a pandemic. But it’s precisely this type of audacity to dare that drives innovation, according to the founder and CEO of specialized tech company JYG Innovations. She should know—it’s exactly this type of “leap of faith” that led Jacqueline Gamblin to create her own business.
“I believe that there are so many reasons why JYG Innovations is here today,” Gamblin says. “My father is one of my heroes, but my mother was an inspiration who instilled a high standard for integrity, hard work and discipline in me and my sister growing up. As I sought to continue to live out those principles, I found myself still looking to balance priorities as a single mother while dealing with quality-of-life issues that escalated after the death of my mother. Eventually, I reached a breaking point where I wanted to control my own destiny. In that moment, JYG Innovations became the answer.”
Headquartered in Dayton, JYG Innovations employs about 150 people. Gamblin’s company specializes in systems engineering, cybersecurity and IT operations for the Department of Defense as well as federal and commercial industries. Gamblin sees her company as offering more than just the stated services, however. “I’ve found it to be a place where good people become their best selves as we aim to impact our local community through principles based on integrity and intentionality,” she says.
Born in Selma, Alabama, Gamblin moved around the country, a self-proclaimed “Air Force brat.” Her father served in the military, and her family eventually found their way to Dayton. Like most enlisted folks who arrive in the Gem City under the premise they’re simply “passing through,” Gamblin found herself putting down roots instead. “Dayton has been ‘home’ for some time now, and I love the pace of the city, the affordable cost of living and the opportunities to engage in various community activities,” she says.
She began her professional path at a defense company that is now Northrup Grumman. Discovering roles outside of software engineering or programming provided Gamblin with her spark that fueled her drive to launch her own business. “I never saw myself as an entrepreneur,” she says. “I loved the technology career field and wanted to learn as much as I could so I asked a ton of questions. Anytime there was an opportunity to learn a new skill or work in a new area such as systems programming, project management, pricing or proposal development I jumped on it because I wanted to understand the big picture. I had no idea all of this was actually preparing me to be a business owner.”
Ultimately, she decided to take the leap to start her own company. “JYG Innovations exists partly because of the opportunities and risks I decided to take over the years,” she says. “However, it has continued to thrive because of the people who chose to take some of those risks with me.”
Taking the plunge not only meant stretching her own skills as the jack-of-all-trades in her CEO position, but also hiring and nurturing new team members along the way.
“I think I dealt with some of the standard challenges when I first started JYG Innovations,” Gamblin says. “I faced the difficulty of needing to develop a business strategy, generate revenue to pay the bills, build a portfolio of services and identify new customers; however, I also faced the challenge of wanting to have the right people on board.”
Gamblin’s motto is “hire character, train skill.” She says finding the right cultural fit will trump a hire who has the correct skill set but doesn’t mesh with her company’s culture. Bringing in team members who are eager and willing to learn new skills, but also have enough humility to be held accountable, make the best human capital at JYG Innovations. “The most valuable assets often not found on a candidate’s resume are their work ethic, collaborative spirit and the source of their motivation,” she says.
Staying nimble is always the name of the game for entrepreneurs, and COVID-19 certainly tested the limits of many businesses. One challenge the past year wrought was attacking Gamblin’s ability to personally connect with her staff, a differential factor she took pride in lavishing on her company. “I have always loved being hands-on with the employees of JYG. Prior to the pandemic, I would visit each of our sites around the country and would check-in with employees to see if there was any way that we could support them better,” Gamblin says. “Since the pandemic, we have had to find creative ways to check in with our employees and make sure that they feel valued and supported, even from a distance.”
However, Gamblin says she’s keeping the lemonade she made from 2020’s lemons. “One positive outcome is that JYG Innovations was already using an established telework policy for a remote project on the East Coast,” she says. “We were able to implement this policy for other remote project teams on a case-by-case basis. Going forward, we will continue to use a hybrid version of this policy.”
With service locations in 10 different states, Gamblin could choose any number of locations for her headquarters. But Gamblin is dedicated to the Dayton area.
“Dayton is a good place to grow because of our close proximity to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base… We are committed to investing in emerging technology trends directly related to the Department of Defense,” she says. “Dayton also has great opportunities for us to continue in our commitment to elevate the standard of corporate citizenship. We encourage each of our employees to invest their time, talent and treasure into the communities we serve.”
Gamblin recognizes the importance of “paying it forward.” She participates in programs that support local entrepreneurs because it wasn’t so long ago that she was in their shoes. “As a new entrepreneur, I consulted mentors, other business owners and any industry resource that could be helpful,” she says. “I also believe it is imperative that new entrepreneurs identify business banking, accounting and legal resources. These resources should be vetted and will hopefully lead to long-term relationships.”
This can be particularly true for under-represented people. As a Black woman, Gamblin says she was subjected to personal biases with peers in her industry. “I have lost count of the number of times when I entered a room with a white, male member of my team and the assumption was made that he must be the CEO or at a minimum a co-owner,” she says. “It can be daunting to pursue a career in a field where there are few people who look like you, but the key is to remember you are hopefully creating opportunities for others.”
That’s why, in addition to landing multi-million-dollars contracts, Gamblin still sets aside time to help uplift other aspiring business owners. “I sincerely hope to see more Black women pursuing business ownership in STEM fields, and I would encourage them to stay the course despite the challenges,” she says.