Aarti Sahgal saw a fundamental flaw in how businesses work with people with disabilities.
“For the last few years, the entire business community has been talking about ESGs and building a place of belonging,” she told Hypepotamus. But for the vast majority of businesses, DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) conversations don’t include working with people with disabilities.
That is a missed opportunity for innovation, said Sahgal. Not only do 1 in 4 Americans live with a disability, but technologies created for and by the disability community are now largely adopted by the wider business world.
While touchscreen and voice-to-text started as assistive technologies for people with disabilities, they are integrated into nearly every mobile device.
“It makes so much business sense for any organization to tap into this market…because they have the purchasing power. They are a huge customer base and more importantly, when we talk and include them, innovation improves.”
For the last 15 years, Sahgal has been working with state and nonprofit organizations to figure out how to bring the business community and the disability community together. “One is the world for folks with disabilities, and one is for the rest of us. And I couldn’t wrap my head around why this happens…and I started to think about how I could bring these two worlds together,” she added.
Sahgal launched Synergies Work in order to bridge the gap between the business community and those with disabilities.
It is about moving beyond the thought that hiring someone with a disability is about “ticking a box,” she added. Rather, it is about empowering people – regardless of their background – to turn their talents into sustainable business opportunities.
Much of Synergies Work is about helping people with disabilities succeed in the entrepreneurial space.
Its accelerator, I2I, is designed to provide entrepreneurs with resources to get an idea from idea to exit. The program is an 11-week program designed to introduce entrepreneurs with disabilities to important learning programs, mentorship, and business development help.
Synergies Work has helped entrepreneurs ranging from app developers to soap makers to machinists over the last several years. That includes helping 200 entrepreneurs to date and working to launch over 70 startups led and owned by entrepreneurs with disabilities.
62% of them being women and 54% of them being people of color, added Sahgal.
Sahgal and her team are working to change the narrative for the next generation of entrepreneurs and small business owners. But creating systemic change, of course, is no small feat.
“We are there as a bridge makers between the business community and the disability community. And in an ideal world, there should not be a place for Synergies Work to exist. We have no role to play in an ideal world. And I think that’ll be the happiest if you’re able to bring these two worlds together and there are no more need for Synergies Work or accelerators like us to exist.”
The Synergies Work team is currently working on putting together its inaugural EDDIE (Entrepreneurs Dedicated to Diverse and Inclusive Excellence) Awards ceremony.
The “Oscars” like awards are designed to celebrate the entrepreneurial accomplishments of founders and business owners with disabilities.
“Entrepreneurs are celebrated in our country. And I don’t see entrepreneurs with disabilities getting celebrated. Hopefully this will ignite that change,” she added.
Applications are open and can be found here.
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