6/20/2014

Aspiritech Today Volume 1

The Aspiritech Today newsletter has been published online. In it you can read about the open house event, our new office environment, Stepping Up and Out, and the annual fundraiser banquet.  The premier issue can be found at this link.

3/28/2014

Aspiritech Invites Community Members to Upcoming Open House

On Sunday, April 27, Aspiritech will host an Open House in our new office space located at 427 Sheridan Road, Highwood, Illinois, 60040.  Held from 2 – 5 p.m., the Open House and ribbon cutting ceremony will bring together dignitaries, community members, board members, advisers, and employees and their families in celebration of Aspiritech’s new home. Aspiritech was one of the first non-profits in the country to create an effective employment model for adults with Asperger’s syndrome and high-functioning autism. We continue to lead this sector, leveraging the unique talents and abilities of individuals on the autism spectrum to provide top-notch software testing services.

After six years, Aspiritech had indisputably outgrown our former space. With an employee wait list that increases every year, the need for a larger location became paramount in 2013. The new Highwood office is tailored to meet the specific needs of individuals on the autism spectrum, many of whom struggle with sensory difficulties and social discomfort. Planned sensory amenities include balance ball chairs, desk exercycles, and weighted vests. The layout of Aspiritech’s new home also encourages social interaction in communal spaces.

Many of Aspiritech’s employees have struggled to find meaningful employment elsewhere; studies show that only 15% of adults with autism are gainfully employed. Creating a positive and comfortable workplace is a key aspect of Aspiritech’s model. “At Aspiritech, I have been able to work in an environment where I feel included, capable, and successful,” one employee says. “No more eating lunch alone or being judged by coworkers and bosses at a job where I can’t get help when I need it.”

In the U.S., autism affects approximately one in every 88 children. As these children age into adulthood, they are no longer eligible for school-sponsored support services or other forms of assistance. Nearly 40% of young adults with autism in the U.S. receive no services whatsoever after high school graduation. “This is an unacceptable situation,” says Brenda Weitzberg, Aspiritech’s executive director. “We are wasting the incredible talents of a growing sector of our population, a group that has important technical skills to offer the business community.”

Aspiritech invites the Chicagoland community to learn more about the organization and celebrate its new home during the Open House and ribbon cutting ceremony on April 27. The event is a great opportunity to show your support for a local non-profit that is making a national impact.

3/27/2014

How Autism Can Help You Land a Job

SAP, Freddie Mac Recruit Autistic Workers to Fill Roles That Call for Precision; Debugging Software

By SHIRLEY S. WANG

DUBLIN—Some employers increasingly are viewing autism as an asset and not a deficiency in the workplace.  To read more of this article, click here.

1/09/2014

First Business Summit on Employing Adults with Autism Convenes January 27-29 in North Carolina with Focus on Unique Role for Small Businesses in Closing the Autism Employment Gap

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.

10/23/2013

Aspiritech featured in Autism Speaks town hall meeting in Chicago

On Wednesday October 23rd 2013 evening, Autism Speaks held its sixth Small Business Town Hall meeting, hosted by Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. The Chicagoland autism community showed its recognition of the dire need for appropriate employment opportunities for adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). Organized in collaboration with the University and its Speech, Language, and Learning Clinic, the Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Laboratory, and the college’s Autism Speaks U. Chapter, more than 100 attendees packed the room at the Alice Millar Chapel. Participants included adults with autism and their families, small business owners, employment service providers and academics.

The evening feaured a panel of four speakers who shared stories of their success as the owners of small businesses that employ individuals with autism.  Members of the audience engaged in a dynamic Q&A discusion with the panelists, asking questions about how their businesses got started, how many people they employ, and what obstacles they have faced along the way.  Other small businesses also exhibited materials and products to the Town Hall participants on tables around the room and shared their own stories from the audience.

The four small business that were featured on the panel at this Town Hall meeting were as follows:

  All of the presentations celebrated the different strengths and skills shared by many individuals with autism, and many attendees left with a sense of hope about what is possible, even in the face of bleak unemployment and underemployment rates of adults with ASDs.

“The subject of employment can be a source of frustration to so many in our community due to the lack of opportunities,” said Kerry Schaalack, Executive Director of the Autism Speaks Chicagoland Chapter. “It was incredibly rewarding to see the amazing work the companies represented by the panel are doing and how much thought they have put into their business models.  It was also exciting to see business owners in the audience, who were not personally impacted by autism, looking for guidance on how they could employ people on the spectrum.  It was a truly inspirational and I believe brought hope to many of the families in the audience.”

Autism Speaks looks forward to hosting three more Small Business Town Halls this Fall, including our next meetings on Wednesday, November 6 in St.Louis and on Monday, November 11 in Miami! Please click here to find out if we are visiting a city near you.

The Small Business Town Halls are part of an Autism Speaks initiative, “Advancing the Role and Impact of Small Businesses in Employing Adults with Autism,” funded by a generous grant from the Ireland Family Foundation.

9/24/2013

Luncheon / Fundraiser on October 10,2013

The Rosie Project luncheon/fundraiser on October 10,2013.

9/27/2012

Aspiritech highlighted in Huffington Post article

Young Adults With Autism Seek Out White-Collar Careers For First Time

A few weeks ago, Matthew Koenig, 24, was doing data entry for below minimum wage at a supervised employment center for people with disabilities in St. Paul, Minn.

Koenig, who has autism, was happy to have a job in a tough economy, but soon realized the workplace wasn’t well suited to him. His co-workers “had too broad of a range of [disabilities],” he said. “Some people had really serious problems…” Read More

3/27/2012

Aspiritech cited in BusinessWeek article

Outsourcing to the Autistic Rather Than to India

Part of the reason autism has captivated Hollywood moviemakers more than other developmental disabilities is that, for all the difficulties it brings those who have it, it also gives some of them the ability to perform uncanny feats of brainpower: effortlessly memorizing train schedules or song lyrics, identifying the day of the week of any date in the past.Even among those who aren’t full-blown savants, many display an impressive ability, even a desire, to immerse themselves in what the rest of us would see as mind-numbingly boring, detail-oriented tasks… Read More

12/27/2011

Aspiritech highlighted on ACM News

The Perfect Software Tester?

The lives of autistic individuals are challenging ones, especially when it comes to finding employment. But could it be their condition gives them the unique skills that make them ideal as software testers?

At least one outsource testing firm—Highland Park, IL-based Aspiritech, with a staff of 10-plus autistic testers—thinks so. And the companies that are their clients—including optionsXpress, Cars.com, and ISI Telemanagement Solutions—apparently like the quality of service they get… Read More

9/21/2011

Aspiritech profiled by The Associated Press

Startup company succeeds at hiring autistic adults

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. (AP) — The software testers at Aspiritech are a collection of characters. Katie Levin talks nonstop. Brian Tozzo hates driving. Jamie Specht is bothered by bright lights, vacuum cleaners and the feel of carpeting against her skin. Rider Hallenstein draws cartoons of himself as a DeLorean sports car. Rick Alexander finds it unnerving to sit near other people… Read More

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Aspiritech cited in TwinCities.com article

Aspiritech featured in CCTV piece

+ More News

On Sunday, April 27, Aspiritech will host an Open House in our new office space located at 427 Sheridan Road, Highwood, Illinois, 60040.  Held from 2 – 5 p.m., the Open House and ribbon cutting ceremony will bring together dignitaries, community members, board members, advisers, and employees and their families in celebration of Aspiritech’s new home. Aspiritech was one of the first non-profits in the country to create an effective employment model for adults with Asperger’s syndrome and high-functioning autism. We continue to lead this sector, leveraging the unique talents and abilities of individuals on the autism spectrum to provide top-notch software testing services.

After six years, Aspiritech had indisputably outgrown our former space. With an employee wait list that increases every year, the need for a larger location became paramount in 2013. The new Highwood office is tailored to meet the specific needs of individuals on the autism spectrum, many of whom struggle with sensory difficulties and social discomfort. Planned sensory amenities include balance ball chairs, desk exercycles, and weighted vests. The layout of Aspiritech’s new home also encourages social interaction in communal spaces.

Many of Aspiritech’s employees have struggled to find meaningful employment elsewhere; studies show that only 15% of adults with autism are gainfully employed. Creating a positive and comfortable workplace is a key aspect of Aspiritech’s model. “At Aspiritech, I have been able to work in an environment where I feel included, capable, and successful,” one employee says. “No more eating lunch alone or being judged by coworkers and bosses at a job where I can’t get help when I need it.”

In the U.S., autism affects approximately one in every 88 children. As these children age into adulthood, they are no longer eligible for school-sponsored support services or other forms of assistance. Nearly 40% of young adults with autism in the U.S. receive no services whatsoever after high school graduation. “This is an unacceptable situation,” says Brenda Weitzberg, Aspiritech’s executive director. “We are wasting the incredible talents of a growing sector of our population, a group that has important technical skills to offer the business community.”

Aspiritech invites the Chicagoland community to learn more about the organization and celebrate its new home during the Open House and ribbon cutting ceremony on April 27. The event is a great opportunity to show your support for a local non-profit that is making a national impact.

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.

The Rosie Project luncheon/fundraiser on October 10,2013.

2012 annual report

Aspiritech featured on NPR Morning Edition

Brenda Weitzberg interviewed by Business News Network

Brenda Weitzberg interviewed on the All Sides with Anna Fisher show

Aspiritech cited by Forbes

Aspiritech featured on Fox News

Aspiritech cited in Fox News piece

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