CHAPEL HILL, NC (January 8, 2014) – As the U.S. prepares for a tsunami of young adults with autism who will enter the job market over the next decade, autism specialists and business leaders will assemble in Chapel Hill, NC on January 27-29 for the first summit to press for more small businesses solutions to what is already an unemployment crisis affecting tens of thousands of these individuals.
Convened by Extraordinary Ventures, Inc. (EV), a North Carolina non-profit organization that is a pioneer in creating small businesses that employ adults across the autism spectrum, the summit – Employing Adults on the Autism Spectrum: A Conference on Pioneering Small Business Models – is especially timely now that 90% of people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are either unemployed or underemployed and an estimated 500,000 additional Americans with ASD will be seeking employment over the next decade. Because today’s job market is unprepared for this wave of prospective employees, the conference will showcase 14 of the most innovative small business models now employing these workers to elevate the role of local entrepreneurs and small businesses as a critical solution to the autism job gap.
“For the autism community, this national conference is nothing short of the turning point in addressing the unemployment crisis now affecting tens of thousands of adults with autism and realizing their potential as truly successful and contributing members of society,” said Gregg Ireland, Senior Vice President and Portfolio Counselor at Capital World Investors and father of a 23-year old son with autism who founded Extraordinary Ventures in 2007. “Especially during a time of budget tightening and federal and state government cut-backs, the answer to this problem rests with us and our commitment to advocate for small business solutions across the country. The goal is to spark a national movement where an increasing number of small businesses and entrepreneurs create self-sustaining businesses to meet the needs of their local residents while providing a range of jobs that match the skills of people with autism and developmental disabilities.”
To build the case for small business solutions to the unemployment crisis affecting adults with autism, the conference will focus on the strategies used by the leading innovators in the field, such as EV, that without government funding operates five different businesses, or “Ventures,” which collectively employ 40 young adults with autism or a developmental disability in the Chapel Hill area. After trying and failing to sustain its operations through a traditional non-profit structure, EV assembled a team of recent college graduates – entrepreneurs seeking to create a suite of small micro-businesses – and transformed a struggling start-up into an effective and profitable company that operates backwards from traditional models, structuring each “Venture” around the tasks that young adults with autism are capable of doing, such as businesses where there is a specified flow and series of routine steps. This means mapping out all the tasks required to operate a successful business, then laying out each step in the process and providing employees with the visual cues, diagrams and other tools so they can follow these steps.
“EV was founded on the core belief that adults with autism and developmental disabilities are capable of holding a job and doing meaningful work, and what our employees are accomplishing every day is proof that this is true,” Ireland explained. “Regardless of whether they are high, mid- or lower-functioning employees, EV offers each employee a job based on what he or she can contribute to the business. Our business proposition is to break everything down, organize each business operation to fit our workers, and not to be afraid of risk or to try something new.”
Currently, EV runs a thriving laundry service for students attending the University of North Carolina, operates a transit bus cleaning operation that works five days a week, rents space at its headquarters building for meetings and social events, produces and markets premium handmade scented candles sold in gift shops, Whole Foods and online, and operates an office solutions service. Cited by Autism Speaks as one of America’s leading small business models for employing adults with autism, this sustainable business model is proving so successful in Chapel Hill that groups in New York and Detroit are replicating the model and other communities may soon follow suit.
Along with EV, the conference will feature the successes of a range of non-profit organizations and small businesses that are using entrepreneurial principles to provide employment opportunities for adults on the autism spectrum. Organizations that will be featured are:
- Arthur & Friends, based in Newton, NJ, which operates greenhouses that employ disabled adults who grow and market hydroponic produce
- Aspiritech, headquartered in Chicago, which employs high-functioning adults with autism as part of a workforce that conducts domestic software testing and provides other quality assurance (QA) services
- Autistic Global Initiative in San Diego, whose members on the autism spectrum provide professional and consulting services to a range of industries
- AutonomyWorks, also in Chicago, which leverages the unique talents and abilities of people with autism to deliver technology services, such as website maintenance, reporting and quality assurance, to companies of all sizes
- Beneficial Beans, a Phoenix-based café that trains adults with autism spectrum disorders and provides employment opportunities
- Inclusion Films Workshop in Burbank, CA, which provides vocational training and an entry-level knowledge of film and TV production to adults with developmental disabilities
- Lee & Marie’s Cakery in Miami Beach, which works with the University of Miami/Nova Southeastern University’s Center for Autism and Related Disabilities to provide job training and employment to adults across the autism spectrum
- onPareil Institute in Plano, TX, which provides training in technology services, particularly app development, and employment to individuals with ASD
- Poppin’ Joe’s Gourmet Kettle Korn based in Louisburg, KS, which was started to create an opportunity for Joe Steffy, a young adult with Down syndrome and autism spectrum disorder, to run his own business. Today, the company employs several part-time workers and sells snacks at fairs, craft shows, car shows and events throughout Kansas and Missouri
- Rising Tide Car Wash, in Parkland, FL, which created a system that breaks the car washing process into 46 distinct steps so families affected by autism can operate car washing businesses
- Roses for Autism in Guilford, CT, which employs adults with ASD who cut, sort, grade and care for the roses grown on a large farm
- Waggies by Maggie & Friends, based in Wilmington, DE, which employs adults with intellectual disabilities to bake, package and market all-natural dog treats
- [words] Bookstore in Maplewood, NJ, which operates as a training facility so adults with autism can learn retail job skills and move on to larger companies
“While these small business solutions are different in size and approach, each already has far-reaching effects and can be replicated or customized to create the ripple effect needed for real change,” Ireland said. “On a national scale, EV and the other businesses that will be highlighted at this conference offer realistic models for any community seeking to expand job opportunities for adults with autism and developmental disabilities.”
Extraordinary Ventures designed Employing Adults on the Autism Spectrum: A Conference on Pioneering Small Business Models in collaboration with the Adult Services team at Autism Speaks and the University of North Carolina TEACCH Autism Program. As the meeting takes place, media and interested stakeholders can follow the discussion on Twitter using #AutismEntrepreneurs.