This week we’re featuring Marty Stahl, the director of the Working Order Incubator at the Volunteers of America of Pennsylvania. Working Order provides entrepreneurship training and support for individuals with disabilities and disadvantages who are seeking meaningful self-employment.
Tell us about Working Order and your role with the program.
Volunteers of America’s Working Order is small business incubator provide employment training and coaching to increase work opportunities for individuals with disabilities or disadvantages. As the Director of Working Order, I am responsible for business coaching and also for helping to connect our participants to the referral resources they need to succeed. We’ve provided support and resources for 75 individuals in the past fiscal year.
Of the people we work with, 87 percent have disabilities, 71 percent have started or grown a business and 76 percent have reported a better quality of life since becoming a participant of Working Order.
Besides the obvious challenges faced by entrepreneurs with disabilities, what are some difficulties they face starting and maintaining small businesses?
Individuals with disabilities face the same challenges as any business owner. They just have added challenges. Nationally, the unemployment figure for individuals with disabilities is 12.1 percent. That’s almost twice the overall national rate. Volunteers of America believes that every individual has the right to access support so that they can determine their best fit work option.
Our participants come from all walks of life. They are between the ages of 20 and 70. Over half are women and over 80 percent are low income. They face the challenges of life circumstances on top of the usual challenges of business ownership.
What is the success rate for businesses started by these individuals?
Working Order has helped 206 people launch or grow their businesses through our services. These businesses are in all fields including graphic designers, hair stylists, a fitness trainer, a golf trainer and many more. The range of industries is based on the individuals’ interest and the feasibility of their business plans.
Our latest statistics show that businesses launched by our clients have lasted at least 6 years. That’s higher than the national average for small business solvency. Over 33 percent of our clients have launched and maintained businesses.
What skills do individuals with disabilities have that help them succeed in entrepreneurship?
What we focus on is how competitive their businesses are in the marketplace. Their products and services are as good as any other business owner. Their passion to work and their dedication is definitely a factor in their success.
Working Order believes inclusion is important. Self-employment offers the flexibility that a person with a disability may need. Leveraging an individual’s abilities and strengths allows the people we serve to be active participants in the Southwestern Pennsylvania’s workforce by choosing an option that can work better for them than a traditional 9-5 job.
How do these small businesses contribute to the wider small biz community in Pittsburgh?
It’s important we promote inclusion and diversity. Nationally our employment statistics for people with a disability have been deplorable. I don’t think Pittsburgh has been that much different when it comes to total inclusion for people with disabilities. That’s a cultural and societal thing. But with Working Order, we can say that in Pittsburgh people with disabilities now have a choice.
Working Order recently won the NBIA 2014 Dinah Adkins Incubator of the Year award. Could you tell us what it took to win that honor and how that will contribute to the program’s future?
We were chosen as a member of the National Business Incubation Association. We were honored by the award… it highlights that individuals with disabilities and disadvantages can be competitive business owners. I hope that this recognition will encourage other incubator programs across the country to include more individuals with disability and disadvantages in their mix of participants. I also hope that this recognition will help us secure new and increased funding sources.
You have a background in graphic design. How does that play into your work at Working Order?
My background is in marketing and graphic design and I have a degree in education. This helps when our clients are building their marketing plans. With generous support from our donors, we are able to help our participants develop launch stage marketing material which can include support for brand identity, business cards, networking, advertising and when appropriate Websites. Having worked in the field, I am able to support new entrepreneurs who are testing their marketing decisions as novice business owners.
What role do you see Working Order continuing to play in the future?
Working Order’s long term goal is to build a sustainable program model that can continue to meet our short term goal of providing a viable employment option for the participants of Working Order. Ongoing coaching and training results in effective entrepreneurial decision making and supports knowledgeable participants who learn how to develop successful employment options. Working Order will continue to ensure that participants who are disabled and disadvantaged have the access they need to learn how to strategize, to develop solid financial plans, to advertise, to market, and ultimately to reach potential customers –skills that are as vital as knowing how to deliver a product or service to the Pittsburgh marketplace.
To find out how you can get involved with Volunteers of America of Pennsylvania’s Working Order call 412-782-5344 x 209 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more at http://www.voapa.org