This is a post by Dave Kearon and Leslie Long of the Adult Services team at Autism Speaks. Last week, Extraordinary Ventures held a conference in Chapel Hill, NC to recap last year's Small Business Initiative and discuss next steps to continue our mission in 2014.
The Autism Speaks Small Business Initiative, funded by the Ireland Family Foundation and executed in partnership with Extraordinary Ventures, had a great year in 2013 filled with nine small business town halls around the country that reflected a strong sense of optimism, discovery and collaboration. Last week, we kicked off the second year of this exciting initiative with a conference hosted by Extraordinary Ventures that brought together individuals with autism, their families, small business owners and other professionals in the community to discuss the role of small businesses as a growing employment option for adults with autism.
Our goal for this project was simple: to increase employment opportunities for all adults with autism in the United States by focusing on the innovation and flexibility unique to small businesses and entrepreneurs that enable them to sustainably employ individuals with autism.
From more than 70 such businesses, we learned many of the daunting trials and tribulations of those enterprises and were so impressed by the tenacity and ingenuity of those that have succeeded. And we learned how important it continues to be to promote awareness of the option of starting a small business dedicated to employing people with autism!
Watching the group of business leaders last week (which included adults with autism) network and share their stories was inspiring and gave us another lesson in our small business journey: give small business leaders an opportunity to spread their message and sell their product and they will shine brighter each time.
There were significant lessons learned by participants at the conference:
- How to design a financial model to ensure your mission is the guiding light but also allows you to stay competitive
- Employees and managers with autism are very interested and invested in the quality and quantity of their product, which adds to their motivation and success
- There are advocates across the country who want to help each other expand or replicate successful businesses
- We are all part of a team with the goal of advancing the power of the autism community to be competitive in any employment option they choose.
The businesses that were highlighted in North Carolina had joined us on the road as speakers in our town hall meetings across the country. They truly exemplified the entrepreneurial spirit with a mission to further the ownership and employment of adults with autism. Click the links to learn more about these incredible businesses!
- Autonomy Works - Downer's Grove, IL
- Rising Tide Car Wash - Parkland, FL
- nonPareil Institute - Plano, TX
- Lee & Marie's Bakery - Miami Beach, FL
- Autistic Global Initiative (AGI) - San Diego, CA
- Beneficial Beans Cafe - Phoenix, AZ
- Stuttering King Bakery - Phoenix, AZ
- Roses for Autism - Guilford, CT
- [Words] Bookstore - Maplewood, NJ
- Poppin' Joe’s Gourmet Kettle Korn – Louisburg, KS and Brunswick, GA
- Inclusion Films - Sherman Oaks, CA
- Arthur & Friends - Newton, NJ
- Waggies by Maggie & Friends - Wilmington, DE
- Aspiritech - Highland Park, IL
- Extraordinary Ventures - Chapel Hill, NC
Autism Speaks is proud to continue the Small Business Initiative as we move into 2014 so stay tuned!
Click here to read a recap of our 2013 Small Business Initiative and Town Halls.
For more information about employment for people with autism, check out the Autism Speaks Employment Tool Kit, designed to help individuals on the spectrum find and maintain employment. You can explore various employment models in the section Employment Models - What Option is Best for You?