Leadership & Inspiration: Kara Jones, Ashley Chung, jacqueline BlackBurn

Mar 8, 2024 | Synergy | 0 comments



Circle Optics is thrilled to celebrate #InternationalWomensDay, highlighting our collaboration with remarkable women leaders: Kara Jones from Genius NY, Ashley Chung from SBIR Advisors, and Jacqueline Blackburn from Decisive Point. Their leadership styles and missions inspire us and we're excited to share their voices with you.

Building a Technology Ecosystem with Kara Jones

Located in downtown Syracuse, Genius NY, now entering its eighth year, invests $3 million annually into five teams from around the world. These teams are at the forefront of drone technology, representing a diverse range of countries including Switzerland, Israel, the UK, Australia, Italy, Netherlands, and Germany, showcasing the program’s international appeal and its significant impact on the UAV industry for Central New York.

Program Director, Kara Jones shares insights into the program’s evolution, highlighting its shift towards supporting more mature companies alongside early-stage innovators. This adaptation ensures that the programming remains relevant and impactful for all participants, catering to their varied stages of development.

Circle Optics values continual access to the community and collaboration among cohort members. Jones is remarkable at fostering an environment where sharing ideas and partnerships flourish naturally. The Genius NY program’s flexibility, adapting to the needs of its participants, and the supportive ecosystem is why our regions is advancing the UAS industry and contributing to regional economic growth.

Innovation & Alignment with Ashley Chung

Ashley Chung, a former Unlimited Contracting Officer and Branch Chief of Air and Space Operations in the U.S. Air Force, has made a significant impact at SBIR Advisors Inc., guiding tech startups like Circle Optics, Inc. to secure over $5 million in defense contracts. Her transition from the military to a civilian advisory role reflects her ongoing commitment to supporting national security, leveraging her expertise to navigate the complex DoD acquisition bureaucracy and articulate solutions that align with DoD needs. Chung’s strategic approach and ability to foster relationships with DoD stakeholders are key to SBIR Advisors’ success in securing contracts, as she emphasizes clarity, specificity, and innovation in proposals while maintaining a strong focus on understanding and aligning with client needs. 

Our Chief Operating Officer Ian Gauger shares ”Ashley is a joy to work with. She is so enthusiastic and so knowledgeable. We appreciate her previous experience of having sat on the other side of the table as a contracting officer.” 

Developing strong relationships with DoD stakeholders is crucial. When a company builds rapport and trust with government stakeholders, it positions itself as a reliable partner for future opportunities. These relationships signal to the DoD that the company is not only capable of delivering on current projects but is also a dependable resource for future needs.

Regarding best practices in relationship-building, there are several strategies Chung suggests:

  • Engage Consistently: Regular interaction with DoD contacts, not just during project phases but also in-between, can help keep the company top-of-mind.
  • Demonstrate Expertise: Sharing insights, innovations, and industry developments can position the company as a thought leader and a go-to resource.
  • Provide Value-Added Solutions: Going beyond contractual obligations to offer solutions that proactively address potential challenges or enhance DoD operations can solidify the company’s reputation as a valuable partner.

These strategies are not just about building relationships after securing a contract but are about fostering ongoing engagement and trust within the DoD community.

Learn more about her approach to the SBIR process.

Military Wisdom in Modern Technology and Funding With Jacqueline Blackburn

From commanding teams in the Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal Community in critical Middle East and African missions to shaping J.P. Morgan’s early-stage tech initiatives, Jacqueline Blackburn‘s journey illustrates the seamless blend of military precision with commercial innovation. Jacqueline Blackburn is Principle at Decisive Point who we met through the National Security Innovation Network’s Propel Program.

We are inspired by her voice that urges staying informed through diverse global perspectives and how AI, autonomy, and de-globalization are key areas poised to influence society profoundly. She underscores the importance of establishing manufacturing bases in the United States and explores the potential of nuclear energy as a sustainable resource.

Here is a sliver of a sliver of her leadership philosophy:

  • Continuous Learning and Curiosity: Jacqueline values the pursuit of knowledge and personal growth, advocating for leaders and individuals to explore their passions and curiosities. This emphasis on continuous learning suggests she believes in the importance of evolving and adapting, both personally and professionally, to navigate complexities in today’s fast-paced and ever-changing world.
  • Empowerment and Building Confidence: Through her recommendation of “The Confident Mind” by Dr. Zinser, Jacqueline highlights the significance of mental toughness, self-belief, and building confidence. This reflects her belief in empowering oneself and others, suggesting that fostering an environment where individuals feel supported to build their confidence is crucial for personal and team success.
  • Character, Integrity, and the Importance of Community: Her discussion on “Thoughts of the Philosophical Fighter Pilot” by Jim Stockdale and the impactful message from “Into the Wild” by John Krakauer indicates a deep appreciation for character, leadership, integrity, and the value of sharing happiness within a community. This underscores her view that leadership is not just about personal achievement but also about contributing positively to the broader community and nurturing a supportive and collaborative environment.

You can hear about Blackburn’s leadership journey on 360° Pulse Podcast.

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