#StartupsEverywhere: Chicago, Ill.

#StartupsEverywhere Profile: Reva Minkoff, Founder and President, Digital4Startups and DigitalGroundUp

This profile is part of #StartupsEverywhere, an ongoing series highlighting startup leaders in ecosystems across the country. This interview has been edited for length, content, and clarity.

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Startup Success in the Windy City

Chicago boasts the highest percentage of female founders in the United States, with approximately 34 percent of the city’s startups run by women. One of these successful entrepreneurs is Reva Minkoff, an experienced digital marketing professional. As the founder and president of two digital marketing startups—Digital4Startups and DigitalGroundUp—Reva has been recognized for her leading role in Chicago’s startup ecosystem. We caught up with Reva to discuss her companies, the Chicago ecosystem, and some of the policy issues that are critically important to startups.

Can you tell us a little about yourself? What is your background? 

I’m the Founder and President of two companies—Digital4Startups, a full service digital marketing agency, and DigitalGroundUp, an interactive technology platform that teaches digital marketing. I’ve received a number of honors that I’m really proud of, including being named to Chicago Inno’s 50 on Fire list, and being a finalist in the Chicago Women in Tech Awards last year. I also teach digital marketing and mentor in several programs around the city. Even though I’m an experienced digital marketer, I actually majored in government at Harvard, so I love when I have the chance to combine my love of policy with my current career path. I’m also a born and raised New Yorker, though I’ve been living in Chicago for the last eleven years or so.  

Tell us more about DigitalGroundUp and Digital4Startups. What is the work you’re doing?

Digital4Startups is a full service digital marketing agency specializing in SEM, SEO, Paid Social, and Analytics. Our goal is to help businesses of all sizes achieve their marketing goals while being as efficient as possible. DigitalGroundUp is an award-winning interactive technology platform to teach people how to do digital marketing. Both businesses have been around since 2012, and we now have six full-time employees, which is really exciting. We have worked with over 250 companies of all shapes and sizes from all over the world across a wide variety of industries. We love what we do. We love being able to help get the word out about great companies, and we love giving companies the tools that they need to be successful at digital marketing. 

What makes Chicago’s startup ecosystem unique? 

Chicago is special because the members of the startup community here are so genuinely supportive of one another. Everyone will give you whatever they have to give—whether it’s connections, time, money, hoodies, or restaurant recommendations. I think it makes everyone more successful because we all work together and care about each other’s successes. The women’s networks are especially strong—we have the highest percentage of female founders in the country, and I think that’s no coincidence because there are so many resources for support and so many people willing to reach out and help. 

Are there any policies at the federal, state, or local level in particular that have helped your businesses grow?

Without the Affordable Care Act, my business wouldn’t exist. I had actually tried to become a freelancer about ten years ago and had to go back into the corporate world because I could not get health insurance due to a “pre-existing condition.” The Affordable Care Act not only allowed me to go into business for myself, but it also has allowed me to recruit and retain great talent despite being too small to offer corporate health insurance. That’s honestly been the biggest policy boost in recent years. 

I will add, though, that I participated in a Professional Fellowship program through the State Department last year, and it taught me how much the basic legal structures we take for granted in America enable my company’s existence and growth. The ability to have contracts enforced, to have a shield between the company assets and my personal assets, and to relatively easily start and dissolve companies are things that I think we forget about, but without them, I don’t think we would have the entrepreneurial environment that we have today. 

What issues are Illinois startups and entrepreneurs like yourself dealing with that should receive more attention from state and federal policymakers?

As I mentioned earlier, I do think that politicians often forget how essential access to healthcare is to the growth of entrepreneurship in this country, but I also see immigration as a growing issue. Access to talent is crucial for startups, yet many can’t afford to sponsor H1-B visas. I want more qualified people to be able to come and work—spouses, students, recent graduates. There are more than enough jobs to go around. That said, it’s also important to loosen restrictions so that all companies are able to have access to that talent pool, not just the biggest, best funded ones. 

Earlier this year, you signed on to our letter in support of net neutrality. Why is it important for you to support strong net neutrality protections?

I firmly believe that the internet should be a meritocracy—the best sites with the best content that best serve the needs of their users should “win.” Speed has become so crucial to the success of a website, and I think every site should be able to compete fairly in that area. Controlling or dictating what content can and can’t load is the first step to censorship and the opposite of a meritocratic system. 

What is your goal for the next year? The next five years? 

That’s a great question. Right now my main goal is to continue to grow the company. We’ve doubled year over year for the last two years in both headcount and revenue, and my goal is to be able to continue to harness that momentum and use it to continue to help companies that need it. I really believe that good digital marketing should be accessible to anyone and everyone who needs it, and so the more companies we can help connect with customers, the better. Regardless of our growth, I never want to stray too far from that mission.

All of the information in this profile was accurate at the date and time of publication.

Engine works to ensure that policymakers look for insight from the startup ecosystem when they are considering programs and legislation that affect entrepreneurs. Together, our voice is louder and more effective. Many of our lawmakers do not have first-hand experience with the country's thriving startup ecosystem, so it’s our job to amplify that perspective. To nominate a person, company, or organization to be featured in our #StartupsEverywhere series, email edward@engine.is.