Vision is a critical part of any successful business enterprise. As any self-employed person will tell you, the path to entrepreneurial success can be difficult enough when the odds are in your favour. But when you are required to overcome environmental and social barriers to employment, and the odds begin to stack up against you, envisioning what your future may look like is not always easy.

For this reason, Impact Co., a social enterprise agency that supports organisations working with marginalised communities, opted to set up an initiative aimed to assist start-up founders and small business owners with disability to start or grow their own business.

Launched three years ago, The Good Incubator (TGI) offers programs and workshops for Victorians living with disability who are eager to learn how to take their business to the next level. It covers topics as diverse as business planning and customer acquisition through to raising capital and networking.

Workplace flexibility is key 

Pre-COVID data available from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show people with disability have higher rates of entrepreneurship than people without disability.

Supporting this finding, a recent study discovered that on average, people with disability are 43% more likely to be self-employed than people without disability. While about 10% of the general population is self-employed, among people with a disability that figure is 13%.

Findings from the Entrepreneurs with Disability Report, released earlier this year, show respondents were drawn to entrepreneurship because of the possibility of higher income, flexibility in the workplace and reasonable recognition of support needs, as well as the ability to bring about social change, and the likelihood of increased work satisfaction.

Many barriers 

TGI program manager Jess Barbizzi says it is a sad reality that many barriers exist for people with disability to take on the challenge of self-employment and entrepreneurship.

Jess says that as with many new business ventures, accessing capital is a major barrier for people with disability. Further, it has been identified that people with disability may possess a lack of confidence borne out of long-term discrimination, a lack of business knowledge, and the fear of not attaining economic independence.

“All of these represent major challenges for people with disability to enter into non-traditional forms of employment and develop effective businesses,” she says.

Focus on resilience 

To help get around these and other issues facing business owners living with disability, the TGI business model focuses on developing an understanding of business skills, tools and entrepreneurial mindsets to support growth and scalability.

The program is co-designed by people with disability, meaning there is also a strong focus on confidence, resilience and self-leadership development which Jess says are often the most pivotal and ground-breaking aspects of the program for participants.

In recent times demand for programs of this type has increased exponentially. The program has assisted numerous start-ups to get their brands up and running including off road and beach wheelchair business Gecko Traxx, therapy assistant directory Ally Assist, disability transport service Carl Ride and braille learning and sensory play mat manufacturer Reach and Match.

Among the successful incubatees for this year’s program is Phoebe Howlett, who has postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome and is looking to develop a eco-friendly deodorant, and an indoor rock climbing business founded by former police officer Michael Tarulli who lost the use of his legs as a result of an accident while on duty.

What’s next?

Offered free for eligible participants, TGI is reliant on external funds for its survival. This year it was funded by Launch Victoria and the Department of Health and Human Services, and the initiative received enough funds to deliver a nine-week program.

It is currently investigating other funding sources that will allow it to expand its current offerings to an even bigger audience.

Like many organisations, Jess says TGI has been impacted by COVID-19 restrictions, resulting in many of its group learning, mentoring and community building sessions having to be reconfigured as online modules. But just as the TGI mentors teach their mentees to focus on positive outcomes, Jess too is able to find the silver lining among the COVID clouds.

“We had to re-design the program that was intended to be delivered in person to be accessible, inclusive and safe online. In some ways, we believe this will enable us to reach a larger number of people, including those in regional and rural communities and those with other commitments such as family, work and running businesses who may have previously missed out.”