Pandemic or no pandemic, a new incubator program specifically designed for entrepreneurs with disabilities is seeing 16 founders building brand new business from the ground up.
The Good Incubator is a free business development program, created by social enterprise group Impact Co, in partnership with Outlook Vic and disability activist and entrepreneur Tricia Malowney OAM, who is also a mentor for the program.
Co-designed by people with disabilities, it provides tailored support to entrepreneurs, to help them build business confidence, and to navigate anything from business planning and customer acquisition to raising capital and networking.
The 16 entrepreneurs are now about halfway through the nine-week program, and are developing products ranging from an online writing-for-wellbeing business, an interior design agency specifically focused on people with specialist needs, and an indoor rock climbing business inclusive of people of all abilities.
Entrepreneur and incubatee Phoebe Howlett is working on developing her business SRSLY body, a refillable, eco-friendly deodorant.
Having begun her career at a venture capital firm in London, Howlett left corporate life after developing chronic fatigue syndrome and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) in 2018.
“Every morning it felt as if I had done a huge week at work, then ran a marathon, gone out and celebrated the marathon and woke up,” Howlett said in a statement.
“I was exhausted and my insides were killing me.”
After a year out and a move to Melbourne, where she could access specialists, she turned her thoughts to launching her own business — one in which she could control her own working environment.
For Howlett, it’s important to build connections with other entrepreneurs with disabilities.
Startup life is portrayed as being all about long days, working weekends, ‘going hard’ and ‘smashing it’.
That approach to business is arguably not healthy for anyone. For some, it’s impossible. And the rhetoric around entrepreneurialism can make the whole thing seem inaccessible.
“I have learnt in my job that when a lot of people have a business idea they react by doubling down, putting in longer hours, missing out on sleep,” Howlett said.
“If I put myself in a situation where I am copying and learning from those people I am not going to get the best out of myself.
“For me, this is really about finding a new way of building a business that is inclusive and sustainable.”
Research from UTS business school, released in May, suggested people with disabilities are 40% more likely to be self-employed.
The report highlighted troubling barriers for people with disabilities in the traditional workplace.
Many entrepreneurs interviewed for the research said they saw running their own business as a way to overcome environmental and social barriers to employment, and also, to overcome discrimination in the workplace.
Others said their disability makes it impractical to work nine-to-five hours, or in a traditional office environment.
But, the researchers said the findings also point to a need for more inclusive startup support programs.
Kerrie Langford, head of employment and workforce innovation at National Disability Services, said employment support for people with disabilities should include enabling “entrepreneurial spirit and innovation”.
“If we are to shift consistently poor employment outcomes for people with disability in Australia, then options such as inclusive startup support, business incubators tailored to the specific needs of people with disability, and evidenced-based programs for school leavers should all be priorities for investment,” she said in a statement.
The Good Incubator’s businesses:
A new, specialist mental health service.
A social enterprise supporting adults with dyslexia, founded by Shae Wissel.
A new concrete model for social housing, founded by an artist, and a disability community arts centre.
A business specialising in urban town planning projects.
An online writing-for-wellbeing service.
A consultancy and advocacy business increasing understanding of autism and neurodiversity, founded by Shadia Hancock.
Brinnie T Design, an interior design studio focused on design for people with autism, MS, Alzheimer’s and other disabilities, founded by Jo Viney.
A psychology business.
Adaptive Climbing Victoria, an indoor rock climbing for people with disabilities, founded by Michael Tarullu.
A service providing job-seeking support and mentoring for women, founded by Shelley Tait.
An arts therapy private practice and consultancy.
SRSLY, which specialises in sustainable body deodorant, founded by Phoebe Howlett.
A business offering support coordination for people with disabilities.
Hidden Space, which offers affordable business premises to early-stage entrepreneurs.
An organisation and accountability business and a website testing and analysis business.
Garling Studio, an arts and graphic design service.