A Look Into the History of JS Solutions
JS Solutions was one of the first companies to move into UAH’s Innovation to Invention Center (I²C), a high tech incubator that opened on campus adjacent to the Business Administration Building (BAB) in June 2019.
After leaving his previous employer, Founder and CEO Jason Swafford saw a need for a small business that would focus more on its employees and its customers.
“That’s not to say that the places I worked for previously didn’t, but I felt like we could do it differently and better,” he said, adding that “there were always outside influences on our decision making that weren’t local in Huntsville. Huntsville is different–it’s a different animal specifically in government contracting and the way technology starts and grows and develops here.”
As the sole earner in a single income family, Jason needed to find a way for the company to pay for itself instantly. “Like, I didn’t really want to go out and deplete savings and risk putting the whole family in financial ruin. My oldest son has special needs so I couldn’t do that. It had to have no impact really to the family or minimal impact to the family.”
After being asked for consulting help by multiple colleagues, he launched JSS.
“Then I picked up a couple consulting clients…I was at one of the RISE morning events and I met the gentleman who was doing the nametags for that group. He was here at the I²C and so I came here to meet him…they’d just moved into this facility,” he recalled.
“Three minutes in and I’m like ‘hey, at the end of the meeting I’d like you to introduce me to the director of this facility because I want in.’ Like, this was what I was looking for for an office space to start up but I couldn’t afford office space that looked like this as a one person consulting company.”
Under the leadership of Rigved Joshi, the I²C provided the perfect environment to enable the young company to get off the ground in September 2019.
“I’m a visual person, so when I’m doing strategies I’m trying to think about how to solve some problems. I like to walk around, kind of think on my feet–I need a big wall or a big whiteboard where I can put my ideas up on a wall. I step back and look at it, take a break and come and look at it again and change it. I kind of go through repetitions and rounds of this and so I’ll get to a solution I’m happy with,” Swafford explained.
“This gave me that space to do that–it was already set up that way. I’d just go into a conference room, close the door, and there’s a whole wall that’s whiteboard paint. I’ve had multiple times where I’ve had the whole wall full of stuff.”
In order to be accepted as an I²C tenant “you’ve gotta go through an approval process, and to do that approval process they force you to build a business plan. I hadn’t built a business plan yet. I mean, yeah, I knew I was supposed to do these things but I didn’t have time to do that. But to get what I wanted, which was to be in this facility, I had to go through the different requirements to get in. And that helped me kind of formalize some things,” Jason explained.
“We built the business plan, [and] we had to justify why we felt like we deserved the privilege to be in the facility. We were fortunate to get accepted.”
In addition to forcing him to create a business plan, the I²C facility itself provided instant credibility to the startup. “People would come in and we’d meet here and come upstairs to the conference room and the first thing they’d want is a tour of the facility. Every meeting got derailed for the first 15 minutes and I got used to it…they’d want to know what this is, why it’s here, what’s it all about, and how’d it get here,” Swafford said, adding that he’s given that tour to “everybody who’s ever come to meet here.”
In addition to the overall optics of the facility and ready access to private meeting spaces, Jason made good use of the access to different networks that I²C provides. “If I had a problem, I’d come ask Rigved ‘hey, I’m trying to figure this out, I don’t know who to talk to’–he’d give me about 3-5 different people to reach out to every time.”
“These folks, they’ve been through this or they know who to talk to to help me. And sure enough, every time they’d help me get to my solution.”
“If I could really pick my top three entrepreneurs who really leveraged to the max how they could benefit from all the resources we have, I think Jason would be on the top of the list. You know, just the way he utilized the space, he could position his company, make it seem legitimate, as he was growing, to his customers who were not easy to convince,” Joshi said.
And grow it did. Although the original plan was to go into a variety of technology fields and work with NASA, the company’s clients and revenue dictated the path of the business for the first couple of years.
“The opportunity to switch from consulting to government contracting appeared and we were able to do support for Army Aviation, specifically working with modernized crypto. We still have a technology focus, but it’s a split between logistics and technology support that we still do now for Army Aviation. Once we started into that, that’s when we had our explosive growth,” Swafford said.
By the spring of 2020, the company transitioned from consulting to government contracting. “Those discussions obviously started months in advance because it takes months to get a contract up and going or to get added to contracts. So I was one person but I had a couple of part time help[ers] when I was doing consulting.” With his client list growing rapidly, the company quickly expanded to five people.
“Later that year we were doing good work–we were a good subcontractor to our client and together we managed our contract well. We were responsive to them and we had the opportunity to add some more positions, and then we added two more in the next six months”.
The company added three additional positions by the fall of 2020. JSS has since hired a business manager, a director of strategy and growth, and most recently, an executive administrative assistant.
“We’re 3 ½ years old…we basically doubled in revenue every year.”
JS Solutions also recently won a $46 billion IDIQ contract with the U.S. Air Force, giving the company a seat at the table to compete against all of the task orders that will come out on that IDIQ. JSS is the smallest company sitting at that table.
This was a huge milestone for the company, requiring JSS to assemble a team and lead it to go after the contract.
“A lot of the companies that we asked to team with us really weren’t tracking this. Like, they did initial awardees of this in, I think, September of 2021. A month later they announced they were going to do a second on-ramp of companies because they wanted a broader mix of competition. All the traditional contracting companies kind of went after the big companies to do things…all the top five are in there.”
“Well, we happened to be paying attention and we were like ‘hey, we can do this. We qualify for this. So we went after it. Which forced us to do some things internally in the foundation of the company. It forced us to verify that we had a government-approved accounting process, which is a big deal with government contracting. You have to be legitimate and look like a low-risk possible prime to be awarded a seat at one of these tables.”
JS Solutions has since acquired its GSA schedule, allowing it to bid on additional items. “We shock a lot of folks all the time–I say we fight above our weight class. We’re a small company that’s not the traditional small business contractor in town…I’ve got a good team with a mix of abilities and we’ve done big things like this in previous organizations, working in a big company with a big company’s resources behind us. We’re like ‘we can do those same things, we just have to do it a little differently,” Swafford said.
“This sets the stage for us to have explosive growth over the next ten years. One of my goals is that we’re trying to get to be a 30 or 50 person company within 3-5 years from winning that IDIQ…it’s possible, it’s doable–you just have to put the hard work in.”
Joshi noted that Jason “was one of the very few who was able to see and identify, pinpoint, exploit, and leverage everything that we were trying to build and create for one-man entrepreneurs like he was.” He explained that exits for the I²C included its resident companies failing, being acquired, or going IPO.
“But there’s a very legitimate exit that we could quantify, which is growth,” he added. “Every time someone asks me ‘have you had any exits,’ I always say we’ve had three so far–he was the first one who moved out of the I²C for the right reasons because he grew from one person to 15 people, moved from a 300 square foot office to 3,000 square feet. To us, that’s an exit, and for our stakeholders that comes as very positive…it checks boxes across various metrics that we track.”
Recognition in the Community
In addition to repeated nominations for the Entrepreneur of the Year Award, JS Solutions won silver in the Huntsville Chamber of Commerce’s Best Places to Work Awards in 2022. “That shows we take care of our people and that people want to come work with us. When we’re recruiting and talking to folks, everyone in town pays attention to that. Whether they tell you that or not, they are,” Jason explained.
“Those things keep showing up and happening because we’re putting in the hard work to grow the customer relationship, to grow our employee relationship. If both of those are not happy and they’re not happy together then we’re not going to exist, and the company won’t exist unless the employees and the customers all like each other and want to work together. Now we’re up for Small Business of the Year as a contender, and we’re hopeful that we’ll do well there,” he continued.
For Jason, the Best Places to Work Award is the one he cares about the most “because that’s our report card from our employees on how we’re doing on taking care of them.”
Although he sees this as the company’s pathway to growth, Swafford noted that the focus isn’t so much on the number of employees as it is its ability to take care of the people within the company. “That’s success…I want to make sure we don’t lose sight of that right there. It’s not just about the growth revenue or the awards. It’s making sure that we stay humble and take care of our people, who will take care of our customers and vice versa. Everything else will kind of take care of itself outside of that.”
JS Solutions celebrated its continuing success by cutting the ribbon on its new corporate headquarters at 150 West Park Loop, Suite 320 on September 20. The ceremony itself marked a new chapter in Huntsville history with a joint ribbon cutting for both the Madison and Huntsville Chambers of Commerce, symbolizing a new collaborative energy fueling North Alabama’s small business ecosystem.
Jason noted that first office space at the I²C was #320, the same number as JS Solutions’s new office suite. “I looked at two other offices between when I was getting ready to move out–they were also 320. It was weird. So our next office will have to be 320, I guess.”