“Disability Entrepreneurs as Creators of Future Wealth”

September 9, 2019

Dobbin Atlantic Scholarship Report 2018/19

Name:                             Brian Aird
Home Institution:    TEAM Work Cooperative, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
Host Institution:       Technological University Dublin (TU Dublin) – Professor Thomas M. Cooney

Dates of Visit:              May/June 2019

Title of Research:      Disability Entrepreneurs as Creators of Future Wealth

This Project built on the ANALYSIS OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP PROGRAMS FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES IN IRELAND (Cooney, 2017).  To identify opportunities to empower disabled people to become creators of future wealth for themselves, their employees, their communities and their country.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in Ireland is currently approximately 4.5%, close to the lowest level recorded at 3.9%.  Although this may seem to be approaching full employment, the labour force participation rate has decreased from 66% to 62% over the most recent 10 year period. This compares to 65.7% in Canada, which is felt to be low (

Approximately 13% (approx. 625,000 individuals) of the population of Ireland self identify as having a disability, and approximately 30% of this group are attached to the workforce.

Planning included:
• Document review.
• Identifying organizations operating within the entrepreneurship, employability, and disability eco-systems.
• Identifying and confirming 1-1 meetings in advance of my arrival.

Points of interest in meetings with Government, business service providers, and disability organizations to understand current context included:

• What makes a good referral
• Who are key partners and funders
• Business service provider – what steps do you take if someone self identifies as having a disability, or if you believe they do?
• Disability org – what steps do you take if someone tells you they want to start a business
• Business idea
• Target market
• Age
• Disability (if disability org)
• Business idea (say, focus on tech / high growth – open to interpretation/subjective)

The following was gleaned through 4 weeks of research in June 2019, aimed at gaining an understanding of the current entrepreneurial eco-system in the Republic of Ireland, with a focus on best practices and the environment for people with disabilities who are seeking to become more financially self reliant through self employment and/or entrepreneurship, primarily in the City of Dublin.

The Sunday Times – 30th June 2019

In the areas of self employment/entrepreneurship and disabilities, Ireland has similarities to Canada and much of the World in regards to:

• resources available to people who are starting/growing businesses: accelerators, hubs, innovation centres; a variety of debt and equity financing options; University/college/training organizations; courses, workshops & training opportunities; and more.
• organizations serving people with specific disabilities as well as cross disabilities.
• Government Policies, specifically in regards to being a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Ireland has favourable policies regarding individuals within the welfare system who seek self employment opportunities.  Ireland has at least two other guiding documents related to this subject, The Comprehensive Strategy for People with Disabilities and the National Disability Inclusion Strategy.

1-1 Meetings/contacts:
• Technological University – Dublin: Thomas Cooney, Yvonne Galligan, Deidre McQuillan
• Institute of Art, Design, and Technology: Sharon McGreevy
• Trinity Centre for People with Intellectual Disabilities: Mary-Ann O’Donovan
• Enterprise Ireland: Pauline Brennan
• MicroFinance Ireland:  Garrett Stokes
• Department of Business, Enterprise, and Innovation:  Eoghan Richardson
• Dublin City Local Enterprise Office:  Norman Thompson
• Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities – Chair of the Implementation Group
• Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection: Ronan Harny
• National Disability Association:  Marion Wilkinson
• National Learning Network (Rehab):  Linda Coone
• Employ Ability/Dublin South Centre Ability:  Lisa Moore
• Inner City Enterprise:  Evanne Kilmurray
• The ATNetwork:  Paul McBride
• Freedom Tech:  Sarah Gavra Boland
• Disability Federation of Ireland:  Joan O’Donnell
• WALK:   Des Henry
• Dyspraxia Association:  Harry Conway

Although every organization I met is a leader in their field, in the short time I was in Dublin, I did not notice an eco-system, serving people with disabilities choosing self employment/entrepreneurship, that is connected to its full potential. Many were unaware of the opportunities for the “unknown expertise” and programming to contribute to their corporate/organizational missions.  There may lie a significant opportunity in a more intentionally connected eco-system that provides enhanced and seamless supports and services to people with disabilities who would choose to become self employed, with clear marketing and communications reinforcing self employment as a viable career option to families, civil servants who directly serve the public, the media, the general population, and at various stages throughout the mainstream and specialized school systems.

A connected eco system might result in more workshops, more varieties, less overlap, deeper training opportunities for more people, more clients accessing a larger/more appropriate variety of supports, more people with disabilities accessing currently offered loan programs – all with the expectation a greater number of people with disabilities will be exploring self employment; resulting in people starting a business, realizing they are better prepared to find a job, or deciding to seek further education.

We hosted a conference on the final Thursday, “Entrepreneurship for People with Disabilities”, at Dublin Technological University.  The 75+ participants represented government, leaders of business service and disability organizations, their clients, entrepreneurs, and aspiring entrepreneurs.  New connections were made, people re-connected, obstacles and ideas were shared. Oftentimes business service providers are not confident that people with a range of disabilities would find success through self employment, and people at disability focused organizations believe self employment might be too difficult for their clients.

These conferences are opportunities for Business Service Providers and Disability organizations to be reminded they share many of the same clients.

What Actions Might be Considered:
• Commit to developing a three year pilot project.
• Identify Government Departments and other funding organizations that might have an interest in funding the pilot project.
• Develop a planning budget and the initial project team, including participation with partners.
• Identify the project champion.
• Develop common understanding of definitions
o Disability
o Self employment
o Entrepreneurship
• Maintain pressure on various areas of government to ensure a common understanding that both employment and self employment are reasonable paths for citizens to become attached to the workforce.
• Develop clear vision / mission, goals and outcomes.
• Research the various eco-systems currently in place.
o Confirm how they are currently linked
• Identify leaders within Business Service Provider / Disability / Education organizations.
• Develop an on-going table of decision makers (CEO’s, Executive Directors etc) reflecting different organizations, from the above groups, that all share the common goal of increasing the numbers and success of people who are running a business. This group, meeting 6 times per year, might then provide information etc to their networks.

I did not accomplish all my goals. I have been in touch with all contacts at least once since my departure, and several of them many times. I continue, and will continue, to encourage/support many of the possible actions, noted above.

In summary, as one who is about to become 62 years old, this opportunity provided me with one of the most wonderful experiences in my life.  I have worked in entrepreneurship development in several countries and across Canada. I have never come across warmer welcomes and doors more widely open, than during my time in Ireland. This stems from several things: Professor Cooney is highly energized, skilled in entrepreneurship, and well respected; people in Ireland are welcoming, comfortable with people from around the world at their doorstep, and keen to thrive; and ICUF, if not always well known, resonates with government, educators, and people who seek opportunities to better achieve their organizations’ vision and missions.