Tracee Walker Gilbert

Owner and Operator of System Innovation, LLC

The woman who did it all — and then she started her own business to top it off.

Why Physics?

Natural Progression to do Physics
Tracee claims to be “an anomaly” since she comes from an artistic family of writers, musicians, and teachers. However, simultaneously being surrounded by this creativity and being exposed to math and science early on led to “a natural progression to do physics.” After following a physics high school track and landing an internship at NASA at the beginning of her college career, Tracee admits, “I always had a passion for solving problems, really tough problems.”

The Road to Innovation

A Tangled Path
Early on in her career, Tracee wanted to start her own business. However, after she got her physics bachelor’s degree, life happened - she worked for a series of companies and started a family. During a leave of absence from years at Lockheed Martin she earned her Ph.D. in Industrial and Systems Engineering, then worked for Mitre corporation — a not-for-profit company that operates multiple federally funded research and development centers. Following this, Tracee did a fellowship with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), then worked shortly for Engility.

Tracee claims the AAAS fellowship, “really reinvigorated my desire to go out on my own.” So as she worked with Engility, Tracee waited for the right moment and ended up launching her own company. Tracee founded System Innovation, which specializes in providing management and technology consulting, systems engineering services, and research and development oversight.

Using the Physics Mindset

Physics Can Take You Anywhere
Tracee feels that “physics really gives you the critical thinking and logical reasoning skills that are needed to not only be innovative, but to be a problem solver. Physics provides that foundation to take it to the next step, to be an innovator.”

Tracee says there are so many things you have to learn outside of your formal training when you become an entrepreneur. This includes things like accounting, business, law, marketing, and other non-technical disciplines. “You can go anywhere with a physics degree. If you start off with a business degree, it’s harder to go in the other direction. Most things were easy for me to learn having the physics foundation.”

The Reality of Entrepreneurship

Advice in a Different Media
Like most entrepreneurs, Tracee was concerned about the transition from working a traditional job to working for herself. However, Adam Grant’s book, Originals, put to rest her worries. Grant debunked the myth that an entrepreneur abruptly stops everything to start their business. There’s a conversion period and no need to “eat oodles of noodles out of your car.” With a family, Tracee couldn’t afford that, so that reassurance from the book helped her take the steps to prepare for the transition.

Ensure Profitability First
“I knew before I quit my job, I wanted to have something in place that was profitable.” Tracee emphasizes to future entrepreneurs the need to first demonstrate the profitability of the business before going full time with it. Until Tracee was certain of the success of System Innovation, she still worked at Engility. “The evolution of becoming an entrepreneur was based on the work that I have done over the past 18 years of my career.”

Advice for Students

Be Confident, Be Brave
“Go for it!!! I would recommend that you test out your product or service and ensure that it can be profitable before you pursue your entrepreneurship endeavors full-time.”

Others Want You to Succeed
Look into resources and opportunities available to women and minorities in business like Senator Brown’s Small Business Administration’s Minority Owned Program.

The More Role Models, the Better
“Think about entrepreneurship very early on.” The earlier you contemplate it, the more role models and mentors you can gather and look up to.

Tracee Walker Gilbert image

Interesting Highlights

  • Founded, owns, and operates System Innovation
  • Enjoys spending time with her family
  • Likes reading, learning, and traveling

Advice for Students

  • Search for resources to help start your business
  • Find role models early on
  • Establish profitable product or service before full-time entrepreneurship