009 – Will It Work? How to Test Your Business Idea

Welcome to the Autism Advantage podcast! I’m your host, Tom D’Eri, the COO and co-founder of Rising Tide Car Wash. In case you’re not familiar with what we do, we employ a fantastic team of individuals with autism, allowing us to empower our staff while offering a fantastic experience to customers. We believe that individuals with autism are an incredible untapped resource for many business, and this show is dedicated to proving that employing these people can create real competitive advantages.

Paige Morrow, this episode’s inspirational and informative guest, is the managing director of Extraordinary Ventures. She has managed college students in the past, and explains in our conversation that people with autism are a far more dedicated workforce because they want to work and appreciate the opportunity.

Extraordinary Ventures, or EV, was started in 2007 by a group of parents who all had kids on the autism spectrum who were aging out of high school. These parents were all concerned about the fact that their kids would soon age out of having a structured environment and enter the real world, facing a harsh reality with limited opportunities. Together, they came up with EV as a meaningful solution.

Extraordinary Ventures is fascinatingly different than the other companies we’ve featured on the show so far, because it isn’t just one business. Instead, it’s a nonprofit organization that currently operates six small businesses in diverse fields ranging from laundry to dog walking to candle-making.

Paige and I agree that structuring the work environment is vitally important when you’re running a business employing people with autism. At EV, you’ll see lots of tools to reinforce this structure. Paige offers the example of their laundry business, where they have a folding board with two hinged wings that employees can use to fold a shirt perfectly every time.

You’ll hear in this episode that Paige considers two questions about potential businesses: does the business model fit the skills of the individuals with autism who need employment, and does the business fit the local market? She offers the example of how they tested their dog-walking company to explain how she answers these questions, and why they’re so important. Tune in to learn more so you can figure out how to apply these concepts to your own potential business! You’ll also hear about various ways in which employees with autism are an asset, and how quickly EV has grown.

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In This Episode:

[00:56] – Paige talks about Extraordinary Ventures’ mission, how it operates, and how it got started.

[03:22] – We hear more about lean startup principles, what they are, and how EV has leveraged them to build successful entities.

[05:01] – Tom draws out some of the fascinating things that Paige has been talking about regarding the two questions they need to look at.

[05:37] – Paige talks about some of the specific tests they ran, and mentions the various different businesses that EV has. She goes into depth on this topic with an example using their most recent business, which is dog walking, and explains how they tested the potential of the business before committing to it.

[09:15] – Tom shares his thoughts on what Paige has been saying about the dog-walking business and pulls out some important advice for listeners.

[10:23] – What are some of the advantages that Paige has seen in employing people with autism?

[11:38] – Everybody has a natural inclination to focus on their deficits and those of the people around them, rather than focusing on their strengths, Tom points out.

[12:35] – One of the things that Tom has found at Rising Tide is that structuring the work environment is a critical part of building a successful autism-based social enterprise.

[13:15] – Paige responds by discussing how EV has gone about structuring the work environment, and what the benefits of that have been.

[15:25] – Does Paige have any thoughts on how one could go about testing different structures and supports, or build a system of them from the ground up?

[17:18] – Tom points out that one of Paige’s concepts was that building structures and processes leads to a consistent, high-quality service.

[18:05] – Paige uses Tom as an example, pointing out that he probably hasn’t ever made a candle before but would be able to make one on his first day using their existing structures.

[19:17] – How has EV been growing? Paige’s answer reveals just how impressive the company is, and how fast it has grown.

[20:59] – Paige offers some various ways that listeners can contribute to and support Extraordinary Ventures.


Links and Resources:

Extraordinary Ventures

Paige Morrow on LinkedIn

Tom D’Eri

Rising Tide Car Wash

Rising Tide U

Autism Advantage

University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism & Related Disabilities

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