2 Minutes With ... JinJa Birkenbeuel, CEO at Birk Creative

Ensuring opportunity and equality for Black-owned businesses

JinJa Birkenbeuel is the CEO of Birk Creative. She is also an A.I.-obsessed writer and researcher who created and hosts The Honest Field Guide podcast, which features discussions with execs dedicated to winning in business. Global brands including Google, VaynerMedia, Meta, LinkedIn, Apple, DropBox and Microsoft devour her content—as do curious and inspired people everywhere.

Birk Creative serves individuals and brands who seek to forge a collaborative development process and craft culturally relevant messaging. JinJa helps them identify and build relationships with untapped audiences in the knowledge-sharing economy.

Birk is the primary component in JinJa's family of brands, which includes Journey of Gratitude, offering personalized digital-transformation coaching, training and educational services to entrepreneurs, small business owners and users worldwide. There's also Stomping Ground Studios, a music production, licensing and songwriting initiative, and Birk Digital, a book publisher that shows authors how to build online platforms.

We spent two minutes with JinJa to learn more about her background, creative inspirations and some recent work she's admired.

JinJa, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

My family is from Pittsburgh, but I grew up in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood. I now live with my husband and three sons just north of where the Chicago Blackhawks and Bulls play.

How you first realized you were creative.

When I was a little girl in Hyde Park, around second grade, I took a clay animation class and loved it. My mother encouraged my creativity. She allowed me to be a free spirit. She never judged me, and never thought I was weird. She was a powerful guidepost for me. Very reliable and steadfast in her support of me. She still provides so much for me.

A person you idolized creatively early on.

My mother. She could make anything into a diamond. Even the absolute worst situation would be turned into the fierceness of laughter and hope.

A moment from high school or college that changed your life.

My high school art teacher Mr. Bruner. He assigned a project where I looked at perfume bottles and traced the lettering, which caused an epiphany for me. I realized that someone must have created the fonts and made the bottles. I went on to study branding and communications after I graduated.

A visual artist or band/musician you admire.

My own! Utah Carol is my soft-country band that I formed with my husband in 1997. We have three albums (Wonderwheel, Comfort For The Traveler and Rodeo Queen) and a brand new 3-song EP. We have singles on several compilations, including the Rough Guide to Americana. Our music has been used in television advertising, most notably a multi-year television campaign created by Borders, Perrin and Norrander. "My Fear," from Wonderwheel, was chosen for inclusion in The Rough Guide to Americana, and in Scott Prendergast's film Anna Is Being Stalked while another track, "Mabel Custer," was prominently featured in the dirt bike scene of the David Gordon Greene Sundance-award winning film All the Real Girls. Our song "In The Lake" is on Ice Cube's 30 for 30 documentary about former LA Raiders coach Al Davis. Our music is available to use on TikTok, and can be purchased on iTunes, listened to wherever you love to listen, including YouTube Music.

A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.

Another of my own. My show The Honest Field Guide podcast, which my friend and IP attorney was able to trademark for me, features vibrant and blunt conversations with successful entrepreneurial corporate executives, entrepreneurs and small business owners related to their struggles with identity against their childhood narratives, establishment, growth and scale challenges, their confidence and visions which prepared them for adversity and success.

My recent interview was with the Queen of Cupcakes Candace Nelson, founder of Sprinkles, that's coming out soon. My favorite past episode is Ep. 41 - An American Narrative: A Conversation with Author Viet Thanh Nguyen Winner of The Pulitzer for Fiction. Viet is a Vietnamese-American professor and novelist and the Aerol Arnold chair of English and professor of English and American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California. He speaks eloquently about the impact his entrepreneur parents had on his pursuit of becoming an unapologetic pro-Black racial justice activist and writer. I suppose my next favorite is Ep. 6 - State of Diversity: For Suppliers which is my scathing and blunt criticism of the American corporate supplier diversity system, which intentionally blocks and fails Black-owned businesses, which include the intersectionality of women-owned as well from creating any type of sustaining wealth.

Your favorite fictional character.

"The Melinen Men" character design and illustration by Dallas Birkenbeuel, the artist, couldn't find representations of himself anywhere (except for basketball and hip-hop), so he created these characters and named them, too. Dallas changes and restyles his own hair at least once per month. The characters wear what he calls "dope haircuts." He created the names and the haircuts. I love these characters so much, they are full of life and are clever and unique.

Someone or something worth following on social media.

@foodfidelity for sure. The well-traveled chef grows many of his own veggies, sources local farm-raised meat, creates unique and culturally relevant recipes and then pairs them with songs that inspired the dish. His instagram is mouthwatering all the time! His playlist pairing is unbeatable.

How Covid-19 changed your life, personally or professionally.

The pandemic during 2020, 2021 and also into 2022 profoundly changed my perception of who I am and what I am supposed to be doing with my career and family. It became painfully clear to me, that I had been doing too much for too long. Growing my client base at Birk Creative, creating major activations and discoveries for Google from my house, managing my three son's entire educational experience because the schools were closed, trying hard to be a good wife and completely failing because of depression and stress, managing all the housework, laundry and bills being the breadwinner of the household—when I no longer could leave home, my brain had a reset. I looked around and started saying no to literally everything. The internal confidence to say no has changed everything for me because it left room for me to say yes to the creativity and outputs I had unintentionally buried. Also, I allowed my natural afro hair to emerge during the pandemic, which has been a revealing and emotionally traumatic experience.

One of your favorite creative projects you've ever worked on. 

Advocate Health. One of the most cathartic and satisfying relationships of my career. And it was significant because my media buying strategy was highly effective and exceeded client goals. The assignment was one of life and death, and I was grateful to have been a contributor in some part to saving lives.

A recent project you're proud of.

Google Digital Coaches. This is an ongoing passion endeavor. I had the opportunity to play an intricate role in establishing Google Digital Coaches as a part of a larger Google initiative called Accelerate With Google. The Digital Coaches program was designed to provide equal opportunity for all business owners and entrepreneurs to thrive online. Since launching in 2017, the program now has eighteen coaches across the nation. I and others traveled around the country asking small businesses and entrepreneurs what they're experiencing in business, where they need help and trying to figure out what problems they faced on a day-to-day basis. Through our research, I and the other founding coaches—that include Angelina Darrisaw, Vicente Pimienta, Justin Dawkins, Katrina Turnbow, Vickey Supulveda and Roberto Martinez—we were able to show Google where they best could provide resources.

Someone else's work that inspired you years ago.

The Whitaker Family. Dr. Cheryl and Dr. Eric Whitaker have launched significant Black-owned health equity-related businesses and have helped launch and sustain the careers of many other Black people and Black-owned businesses. They are quiet and steadfast in their efforts to achieve racial equity in STEM, STEAM education and career fields. The launches of their businesses NextLevel Health, Zing Health, and their foundation CPASS Foundation, are about providing service and opportunities to the Black community and with a gaze to the past with positivity and gratitude, no matter how absurd the obstacles have been to our community's success. They aren't stopping in their relentless efforts to expose and mitigate the social determinants to health in the United States.

Someone else's work you admired lately. 

Hands down Fernando Axelrud. His illustration style is so fun. He is incredibly easy to work with also. I've commissioned him for several projects. I love working with Fernando.

Your main strength as a creative person.

My energy, curiosity and ability to learn/adapt/adopt extremely fast.

Your biggest weakness.

I love to create and build so many things for myself, how to choose? I launch so many things, and many of them have failed! For clients, though, it's a boon. I've been told many times, "You're a goldmine!" But I wonder sometimes, where is my gold? Where is the path for me to earn generational wealth so I can ensure my three sons' financial freedom?

One thing that always makes you happy.

Dreaming a dream about being on a warm beach, near my sunlight-filled big windowed home, wearing my Free People summer clothes, my stack of unread books, my family somewhere around, with me knowing that I am going to finish all the books and be rejuvenated. And then in between chapters, heading to the sauna to sweat and meditate, hit the steam room and then jump in the pool and get facials and massages afterwards. Must have amazing rosé also, and be headache-free after I drink it. I need to find a board of directors opportunity that allows me to serve, add value by creating, writing, work and travel.

One thing that always makes you sad.

I have three sons, and I have no idea how I am going to pay for all three of their college educations without taking on extraordinary debt. It keeps me up at night. I'm actually terrified.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising.

I would be traveling for work internationally, running digital transformation workshops to help executives and specifically corporate women, gain confidence to speak their truth so they can be viable enough to sustain career pivots. Part of this work would be to interview smart and interesting people on my podcast, writing personal essays and articles, taking photos and journaling, and also coaching executives on becoming independent authors and help them establish ownership to create their own publishing empires. I'd also be picking up songwriting commissions. Maybe doing a gig here and there. I need all of this to be paid, because I need to get my three brilliant sons through four years of college each so they can be unburdened.

2 Minutes With is our regular interview series where we chat with creatives about their backgrounds, creative inspirations, work they admire and more. For more about 2 Minutes With, or to be considered for the series, please get in touch.

Jessica MacAulay
Jessica MacAulay is a contributor for Muse by Clio. She's also a recent graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder's College of Media, Communication, and Information.

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