Chicago 2021 Challenge
This month’s Founders First Member Spotlight is with Digna Gomez, Founder and CEO of Right of Way Acquisitions, Inc. Based in Chicago, Illinois, Right of Way Acquisitions provides land acquisition services to public agencies for infrastructure projects. Digna works with property owners that are affected by construction jobs—like building new interstates, expanding existing highways, and implementing safety improvements. She helps them relocate if they need to and provides benefits to them on behalf of the agencies involved because of their relocation impact.
“I help people find a new home and I hold their hands until they actually move to their new property,” Digna said, summing up the core of the company’s work since she founded it 13 years ago.
Digna immigrated to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic when she was four years old, so it’s been important to her to break through that ceiling of limiting beliefs and patterns that immigrants run up against.
The doors opened for her when she entered a CareerTrack training program that followed a structural curriculum during her first year of employment. It helped her recognize the value in investing in your employees, both professionally and personally, and inspired her to start her own company with a mission to help others succeed as well.
One of the key things the Founders First accelerator program did was give her the confidence to lean into all the experience she already had and get the kind of prime contracts that the company had not acquired before.
“Since attending the accelerator program, I have been awarded contracts as a prime consultant versus my typical subcontractor contracts,” she said. “The client is paying me directly now.”
She also was recently selected as one of Negocios Now’s Latinos 40 Under 40, which recognizes the leadership of young Latinos in the Chicago metro area.
“I attribute much of this success to the knowledge and insights received from the facilitators during my Founder’s First challenge,” Digna said. “It definitely sharpened my business acumen. The virtual workshops were loaded with insights and strategies from the program mentors.”
After the accelerator course, she decided to go after the prime contracts. “I had enough years in this business, felt it was time to grow and expand, and I bid on those contracts and won them,” she said.
These were contracts with multi-million-dollar, nationwide engineering companies—an industry that’s typically male dominated. That’s not easy. There’s a lot of data that shows women are typically more hesitant to apply for jobs, promotions, and opportunities compared to their male counterparts despite being more qualified. Founders First is trying to change this narrative by empowering women and leveling the playing field.
So is Digna. Citing data from Pew Research that highlights the lack of workforce representation for Hispanic adults—a gap that’s twice as wide for Latina women—she said she wants to change this by partnering with Hispanic organizations and schools to create a pipeline of talent through a corporate internship program that will open opportunities for future generations.
“I want to create a new industry for engineers and people that want to get into this sort of business,” she said. “It’s very unique. Instead of working in an engineering company and just sitting there in an office, you can be outside meeting and helping people. This is an exciting, new thing that engineers can get into.”
Her advice for other entrepreneurs? “A successful business is not all about being Competitive – it’s about being Creative. What unique value can you bring to your business that will move us and our world forward?” she said.
Procrastination holds people back and prevents businesses from getting off the ground. “You have to believe in yourself, number one,” she said. And you can’t give up.
“As a first-generation immigrant, I didn’t always have all of the resources available to me, but I didn’t let that discourage me into thinking I couldn’t do it myself from scratch,” she said. “I did a ton of research when opening a small business… It’s one thing to be successful in your line of work, but it’s twice as difficult to be a successful business owner. I think this is where businesses can fail, but with persistence, all things are possible if you believe in yourself and your service.”
Here at Founders First, we’re so proud of Digna for all she continues to achieve as she works every day to fulfill her vision. We can’t wait to see what she does next!