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Pioneering entrepreneur Denise Jones expands engineering systems firm

Martin Desmarais
Pioneering entrepreneur Denise Jones expands engineering systems firm
Denise Jones

Denise Jones, president and CEO of Dnutch Associates, Inc., has been a trailblazer for women entrepreneurs in Massachusetts, running and growing her company successfully for over 20 years.

The recent growth earned Jones and Dnutch the Massachusetts Small Business Association 2014 Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year award.

The award is presented annually to a woman-owned business with a successful three-year track record. According to Massachusetts SBA District Director Robert Nelson, the selection of Dnutch for the award was based on staying power, growth in number of employees, increase in sales, innovation of product and service, response to adversity and community contributions.

“After starting Dnutch Associates, Inc., Denise Jones showed an impressive willingness to innovate and to grow, and took full advantage of the government contracting and other help that was offered to her and to her business, including the SBA’s Emerging 200 training program. Dnutch Associates is a strong example of a resourceful woman-owned business that has staying power, and we are delighted to recognize its success,” Nelson stated.

A native of the Boston area, Jones grew up in Lynn and has much of her family in Cambridge. She started the Methuen-based Dnutch Associates in 1993.

The company specializes in systems engineering consulting services. It provides services in the design, verification, development and testing of large-scale information technology systems to federal, state and private sector customers.

Dnutch has an impressive list of government customers including the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force, as well as the Department of Transportation and Department of Defense. However, it has also scored big in the commercial industry with giant clients such as Cisco, Intel, General Electric and Raytheon.

Jones said that Dnutch has consistently had approximately 15 employees, but more new work has the company up to 25 employees now. Dnutch generates about $3 million in annual revenue. Current growth has Jones optimistic that the company can increase this revenue into the $5 million to $10 million range — which she has set as a target.

Nelson referenced these heightened business prospects as reason for tapping Dnutch with its small business award, though Jones didn’t expect the honor.

“The award itself I was surprised I got it, but it is an honor to get it,” Jones said. She credited her company’s longevity for the recognition. “It is a lot of hard work. I average about 80 hours a week. I am an A-type personality and I just go, go, go.”

Jones also credits the federal sector for driving Dnutch’s success. Surprisingly, she admits that getting state government work in Massachusetts has been one of her biggest frustrations in her two-decades at the helm of her own company. In fact, Dnutch can more often be found working on government contracts in New York and Washington than in Massachusetts.

“I have been in business for 20 years and I don’t have a chance to do much work in my backyard. I would like to do that,” Jones said.

Despite the difficulty getting government work in the state, Jones said she continues to work at it and has increased her efforts with the state office of the SBA in recent years, taking part in several of the programs they offer to minority-owned, women-owned and veteran-owned businesses.

“Massachusetts has been coming up to speed but we are still behind the eight ball. I have seen a lot of companies like me go out of business because they were trying to get the work but couldn’t get the work,” Jones said.

Regardless, she is optimistic that things will get better for her business in Massachusetts. She said she is counting on the federal sector to help her company hit the higher revenue targets she has and any additional state government work will give a boost to that, and could really make the difference.

Jones’ technology background can be traced back to her time in the military. She joined the Air Force in 1976 and, while being a woman in the military at that time was unusual in itself, the choice to venture into technology was basically unprecedented for women.

Still, she found a foothold working first on air traffic control radar systems, then on telemetry instrumentation, microwaves and satellite communications, as well as in the emerging fields of data and telecommunications. She specializes in systems analysis, systems engineering and quality assurance.

During her military time, Jones worked on the systems behind many of the military’s most advanced missiles and satellites.

This experience led her into work with government contractors in the 1980s, and through this she was part of projects that supported NASA during the time of the first space shuttle launch.

Jones’ military and government contract work in the ‘70s and ‘80s took her across the country, but she returned home in the late ‘80s and joined the Boston-based AGSC Inc., a systems security and IT-support company that was run by two women of color: Barbara Roberson and Grace Hammond. Both Roberson and Hammond had experience with top tech companies prior to starting their own business, including IBM and The Mitre Corp.

Jones worked for Roberson and Hammond at AGSC until 1993, when she decided to start Dnutch Associates.

“I learned a lot from them but I — in turn — always wanted to do my own business,” she said.

She credits her detail-oriented nature for helping the company survive the early years, placing a large focus on business development, marketing and execution of services to initial customers.

“I had to build my own company up utilizing mostly just me,” she said. “For the first two or three years you are carrying all the financing and build off your personal credit.

“There are a lot of stepping stones,” she added. “A lot of asking: ‘What do I have to do to meet the goals?’ And making sure to do the things you need to do to meet those goals.”

With Dnutch, Jones has ridden out some unstable periods that have killed off many technology-related businesses, including the dotcom burst, the post-Sept. 11 swoon and The Great Recession.

According to Jones, reinventing and adapting were critical to Dnutch during these times.

“It really is about diversifying, being able to diversify yourself, your company and your portfolio. That allows you to have specific targets in mind, and you can expand when the opportunity presents itself take advantage of the opportunity,” she said.

For Dnutch, this diversifying continues today, and is what Jones hopes will drive the company forward into the future.