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Autism Advantage

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Hello and welcome to the Autism Advantage Podcast where we sit down with some of the most inspiring entrepreneurs dedicated to proving how capable people with autism really are.Our team believes that individuals with autism are an incredible untapped resource for many businesses and this show is dedicated to proving that it is not only possible to employ people with autism, but in doing so you can create a business with real competitive advantages. The Autism Advantage Podcast will not only inspire you to see the possibilities but will also help teach how you can join the autism entrepreneurship movement.

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Hello and welcome to the Autism Advantage Podcast where we sit down with some of the most inspiring entrepreneurs dedicated to proving how capable people with autism really are.Our team believes that individuals with autism are an incredible untapped resource for many businesses and this show is dedicated to proving that it is not only possible to employ people with autism, but in doing so you can create a business with real competitive advantages. The Autism Advantage Podcast will not only inspire you to see the possibilities but will also help teach how you can join the autism entrepreneurship movement.

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Cover image of Autism Advantage

Autism Advantage

Updated 3 days ago

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Hello and welcome to the Autism Advantage Podcast where we sit down with some of the most inspiring entrepreneurs dedicated to proving how capable people with autism really are.Our team believes that individuals with autism are an incredible untapped resource for many businesses and this show is dedicated to proving that it is not only possible to employ people with autism, but in doing so you can create a business with real competitive advantages. The Autism Advantage Podcast will not only inspire you to see the possibilities but will also help teach how you can join the autism entrepreneurship movement.

Hired! - Integrating Candidates into Live Shifts

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Welcome to the Autism Advantage podcast! I’m your host, Tom D’Eri, and my co-host for this season is Tom Sena. Throughout season 2, we’ll be chronicling the process of opening a second location of Rising Tide Car Wash, where we employ people with autism.

So far this season, we’ve talked about some of our plans for the second location, our big day full of dozens of interviews, and our pre-training process. In that process, as we discussed in the last episode, candidates needed to successfully complete a specific task three times in a row with a time limit. Those who were successful moved onto the next step: being offered a job!

The next step is live training, which is what we’ll be focusing on today. Our employees, who are paid from this point forward, have the core skills they’ll need at this point but aren’t quite ready to be fully effective in their roles yet. We believe that employees in each role need around nine training shifts over the course of about four weeks.

To start this process, we let our current employees know that this would be happening and that if they were ready for a well-deserved vacation after their months or years of hard work, this would be a perfect time to take it. This helped keep our costs reasonable, and also ensured that we weren’t unfairly taking shifts away from our current employees.

During an employee’s first week, it’s critical to have someone shadowing and coaching them to make sure everything is clear and that the work is done well. This gives us a fantastic opportunity to let some of our more senior employees take on new responsibilities and take a step toward larger roles.

Tune into this episode to hear more about all this, plus to learn the details of how we structure the live training process, how we balanced the needs of new employees with those who have been working with us for a while, how much we pay our new staff members during the training process,

In This Episode:

[00:44] - Tom D. launches into the podcast by describing what their live training process is, and what its goals and purpose are.

[02:23] - Tom S. steps in to point out that one of the great things about Rising Tide Car Wash is that there’s constant feedback, coaching, and training. He then digs deeper into how they mapped out the live training process.

[04:19] - During this process, for the first few shifts, they have one new employee doing the actual production work while an experienced employee shadows them to oversee the work.

[06:37] - We hear more about the extra costs involved in the live training process, and how much new employees are paid.

[07:26] - Tom D. explains that this is the first time they’ve gone through this onboarding system with so many employees at once; they usually do it with a few, and this time, they’re doing it with 45 people.

[09:20] - It’s important to make the live training shifts as realistic as they possibly can be. Tom D. talks about how they balance this consideration with the need for having extra staff on hand to coach new hires.

[10:47] - Another important point in this process is that you have to test and reassign role assignments as necessary.

[12:35] - Tom S. points out that for many of these employees, this is a first job. That means that they may not immediately understand how to be a good employee.

[13:28] - Tom D. talks about the various types of teaching moments they have when there are some kind of issues with an employee’s behavior. He gives a quick example.

[15:37] - We learn about the importance of not making assumptions about people’s motives, or whether they’re a good fit, far too early in the process. Tom D. emphasizes that 90% of the time, the person doesn’t understand what’s being asked of them.

[17:03] - Tom S. brings up a bright spot they’ve seen in the training process: the sheer number of successes so far.

[18:02] - In response to what Tom S. has been saying, Tom D. raves about how well their employees have done. Tom D. then points out how enthusiastic many of the hires are to be working at the car wash.

[19:07] - The next step is actually getting ready to launch the second location, which is now just a few weeks away!

Links and Resources:

Tom D’Eri

Tom Sena

Rising Tide Car Wash

Rising Tide U

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

Jan 20 2018

20mins

Play

Almost Employed - Passing Pre-Training

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Welcome to the Autism Advantage podcast! I’m your host, Tom D’Eri, and my co-host for this season is Tom Sena. Throughout season 2, we’ll be chronicling the process of opening a second location of Rising Tide Car Wash, where we employ people with autism.

If you’ve been tuning in this season, you know that we recently hosted our big day of interviews. We had close to a hundred candidates show up. Twenty of these didn’t have autism, and four were unsuccessful in the interview process for various reasons, but we ended up with over 50 qualified candidates who moved onto the next step, our pre-training process.

That’s what we’re here to talk about today! Pre-training involves asking our recruits to be able to do our most basic production process, which involves 39 steps, three times in a row in under six minutes each time. This pre-training process allows us to bring in people who we aren’t quite sure will be up to the task of working here, and gives them a fair shot at doing the job. It also sets our employees up for success.

For this process, we divided our candidates into groups based on their scores on the initial assessment during the first interview. We then subdivided those groups to ensure all of our candidates were working in small enough groups to be able to fully participate in the pre-training. In these small groups, the candidates were taught to do the aforementioned basic production process and then asked to do it. Those who were successful will now move onto the next step, which is live training shifts.

In this episode, we’ll also talk about how we figured out how many people we’ll need to hire in each position, how we calculated when we needed to start the hiring process to ensure our recruits are fully trained and ready by the time we open the next location, and the costs involved in completing this pre-training process. Tune in to learn more!

In This Episode:

[00:25] - Tom D. starts off the episode by describing what pre-training is and explaining the role it plays in their employment process.

[01:57] - We learn why management being on the same page was so important as Tom S. describes the first thing they did in the pre-training process.

[02:51] - Tom S. goes into more detail about exactly how the pre-training process worked, including how they divided the candidates into groups and how they worked with each small group.

[05:40] - People with similar scores were matched up in groups, Tom D. clarifies. He then points out that throughout the process, it’s important to reinforce good behaviours with specific praise.

[08:47] - Prior to designing the recruiting process, they created a mock schedule to figure out how many people they would need to fill for each position. They then assessed how many shifts new employees were likely to need before being able to work on their own, and worked backward from there to put their dates together.

[11:53] - Tom S. points out that the way they initially came up with the mock schedule was based on their current figures.

[13:41] - We hear about the costs associated with this pre-training process. For group 1, the pre-training took place over the course of three days.

[14:37] - Through the pre-training, they’re clear with the candidates that passing the pre-training means they’ll be offered employment.

[15:47] - Tom D. talks about the differences between the employment process this time compared to the first time they did it.

[17:44] - Does Tom D. notice anything different as far as support staff and people overseeing the process?

[19:27] - One challenging part of the pre-training process was collecting reliable contact information for all of the candidates.

[20:48] - Even more challenging than that is telling some people that they aren’t suitable for the job. Tom D. offers a specific example of a gentleman who was too physically strained by the work.

[22:38] - Tom S. talks about what he found to be the bright spots in the training. He then discusses the next step, which is scheduling the successful candidates for live training shifts.

Links and Resources:

Tom D’Eri

Tom Sena

Rising Tide Car Wash

Rising Tide U

Jan 20 2018

24mins

Play

Goal 80% Employees with Autism - Post Interview Results

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Welcome to the Autism Advantage podcast! I’m your host, Tom D’Eri, and my co-host for this season is Tom Sena. Throughout season 2, we’ll be chronicling the process of opening a second location of Rising Tide Car Wash, where we employ people with autism.

If you listened to our last episode, you know that we were preparing for a big event: a day of hosting around a hundred candidates in the search for the perfect people to increase our staff and allow us to open our new location. In this episode, we’ll talk about how that interview process went.

For our interviews, we’ve developed an assessment tool to score the likelihood that an interviewee will be successful at this particular job. The process takes 15-30 minutes and focuses on whether the candidate is functionally capable of working at a car wash. We knew that a traditional, conversation-based interview style tends not to let people with autism really shine, so we focus on hard skills instead. This also ensures that the candidate knows exactly what they’ll be expected to do on the job!

For this interview process, we sent out a few emails to our list. Through that process, we had about 60 people (or a little under 10% of the total number of the people on the list) sign up. We then leveraged other contacts to get quite a few more candidates.

Of the 53 people from our list who showed up, about 20 didn’t have autism. (If you’re wondering how to handle people without autism who apply, and whether you can be sued for reverse discrimination, tune into the episode!) Of everyone who showed up and had autism, though, we had a great success rate! Only four people were unsuccessful in the interview process, so we we were thrilled to be able to invite a bunch of people to the next stage of the process.

We’ll also talk in depth about topics including how we managed this massive interview process while the business was still running, how our scoring system ends up working out with our new candidates, and why we had visitors from UNC-Chapel Hill and The University of California, San Francisco.

In This Episode:

[00:27] - Tom S. reveals exactly how many people came in for the interview process, then Tom D. discusses exactly what they’re looking for in the interview process.

[02:25] - There is a very quick verbal component in the interview process, we learn, but this usually takes less than three minutes.

[03:19] - Tom D. explains the way that they created their successful interview process was through trial and error.

[04:27] - We hear more about the specific numbers of the interview process, including how many of the applicants came from various sources (and how many of those applicants actually showed up).

[08:32] - Rising Tide also worked with a variety of community partners for recruitment.

[10:19] - Tom S. talks about the results of the interview process. They had a very high success rate for the candidates that came from their community partner recruiting sources.

[12:13] - Those numbers say a lot of interesting things, Tom D. points out. He then explains how they handle the people who show up and apply for jobs but don’t have autism, and discusses whether not hiring people without autism opens up the company to lawsuits.

[13:47] - Of the four individuals who failed, two were physically unable to do the job. The other two were cognitively unable to do the job by not being able to follow directions or stay on task.

[14:33] - Tom S. talks about the logistics of running this large interview process on site while keeping the business operational and still washing cars.

[17:07] - We hear more specifics about how the scoring system works during the interview process.

[18:35] - Visitors from two universities came to the hiring event to study who was (and wasn’t) successful, and what the outcomes will be over the next five years. Keep tuning in to future episodes for updates on this research!

[19:54] - Tom D. digs into what he feels are the key takeaways from this interview process. He also takes a moment to rave about how many people they were able to take to the next step of the process.

[23:03] - What has been the biggest difference between going through the hiring process the first time, about four years ago, and doing it this time?

[25:40] - The most challenging part of the interview process for Tom D. was telling the four unsuccessful candidates that it wasn’t going to work.

[27:37] - Tom S. briefly touches on the next steps for the people who made it through the interview process.

Links and Resources:

Tom D’Eri

Tom Sena

Rising Tide Car Wash

Rising Tide U

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

Acuity Scheduling

Atlantis Academy

New Directions for Autism

Introduction to the ADA

UNC-Chapel Hill

The University of California, San Francisco

Jan 20 2018

28mins

Play

010 - Creating a Culture of Empowerment

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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.

I’m honored to introduce today’s guest, Randy Lewis, who is a true legend in the autism employment world. Randy is the visionary behind the Walgreens Disability Employment Program, which is one of the most well-established disability employment programs in the corporate world. He’s also the father of a young man with autism.

Unlike every previous guest on the show, Randy didn’t create a new organization to employ people with autism. Instead, he created change within an existing company. Doing so involved navigating the systems in place that weren’t designed for people with autism and other disabilities. In our conversation, he’ll explain how he did this and offer recommendations for others who might be in a similar position.

Randy points out that parents have all had the same experience of having been taught by their children. One of the things Randy’s son taught him was to confront his unknown biases and look past disabilities to see the person. He also learned how easy it is to underestimate people, which he applied to the concept of employment. This was his inspiration to hire people with autism at Walgreens.

One of the differences between managing neurotypical employees and employees with autism is that in the latter case, managers need to actually manage. This means that managers need to treat everyone as individuals, understand them, and figure out what motivates them. This practice ends up making these managers stronger in managing typically abled employees as well. Randy digs into this in depth, and we talk about how many ways it benefits managers to have employees with autism.

In our conversation today, we’ll also cover lots of other topics including what talent is (hint: it’s not just about going to an Ivy League school and landing a high-powered job), what advantages Randy has seen from hiring people with autism, and how things have progressed for his son, for whom Walgreens wasn’t the perfect fit. Tune in to hear all this and much more!

In This Episode:

[01:35] - Randy talks about his inspiration for trying to hire people with autism at Walgreens.

[03:57] - At Walgreens, there were established processes in hiring new employees. Randy knew that hiring people with autism would involve changing those processes, and reveals the secret magic word that makes people get past their block of resisting change.

[06:03] - Tom reiterates what Randy has been saying: instead of challenging the establishment, you create a side door.

[06:26] - What was the reaction of the typical employees who were working at the pilot site? After the first reaction of fear, there was complete acceptance, Randy explains.

[08:20] - Randy points out that working with people with autism requires that managers manage. This ends up making them better managers all around.

[09:51] - Tom has found something similar at his car wash, where it’s clear that the need to treating all of your employees as individuals creates managers who are better listeners and clear communicators.

[11:22] - Randy talks about a study that explored the culture at Walgreens, and mentions his website, which you can find at this link!

[12:34] - Many of the people who are affected by autism hold a huge variety of roles, Tom points out, explaining that one of the beautiful things about autism is that it’s completely indiscriminate in terms of who it affects.

[13:36] - What would Randy say to someone at a relatively high position in an existing company who is interested in hiring people with autism?

[15:17] - Tom digs into the topic of what, exactly, talent is.

[17:14] - We hear about what business Randy has seen by employing people with autism at Walgreens.

[19:00] - Randy addresses the topic of the impact he has been describing on his son specifically, and explains that his son worked at Walgreens for several years.

[20:52] - Has Randy seen any changes in his son? In his answer, he shares an entertaining way that his son has been making money.

[23:14] - Randy discusses whether Meijer has other employees with disabilities, and whether his son has made any relationships with the people he’s working with.

[25:06] - Randy talks about his vision for the future and what his plan is now that he has moved on from Walgreens.

[27:53] - How can listeners get involved with Randy’s organization, or find out more about his speaking engagements or workshops?

Links and Resources:

NOGWOG (Randy Lewis’ website)

Randy Lewis on LinkedIn

No Greatness Without Goodness by Randy Lewis

Tom D’Eri

Rising Tide Car Wash

Rising Tide U

Autism Advantage

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

Dec 31 2016

29mins

Play

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

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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.

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

Dec 30 2016

23mins

Play

008 - The Business Advantages of Autism Employment

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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.

Today I’m joined by the remarkable Bill Morris. Bill founded Blue Star Recyclers, which employs people with autism and was named Colorado’s 2016 Social Venture of the Year.

After he was laid off from his job when he was in his 50s, Bill began working at a disability services center with no relevant experience other than having a developmentally disabled older brother. There, he encountered four young men with incredible innate skill for electronics. Each of them turned out to have autism.

Seeing the potential, Bill wrote a business plan for an electronics recycling organization (something else he had no prior experience in) to create an employment opportunity for these men and put their talents to use. When Bill brought his now-employees from their dayhab setting into an employment setting, he saw remarkable changes in them. Two non-verbal men, for example, became verbal in the workplace setting.

After beginning as a for-profit company, Blue Star Recyclers became a nonprofit to be able to fund the gap between earned income and expenses. Now, they’ve almost completely closed that gap. Once they do, they’ll use grants to buy equipment and grow. The current goal is to become fully self-sustaining, then to be profitable for a year, and then to give the company back to the employees and become 100% employee-owned. In this conversation, you’ll learn about the company’s transition into a nonprofit, and what the benefits have been.

In the past, Bill has tried to start businesses with other motives, such as making money. In those cases, he ran into lots of obstacles. When he opened this one, though, everything seemed to come together in remarkable ways. “It’s the universe’s way of giving you the nod of approval,” he explains.

For example, trying to buy a truck led to finding investors who did an incredible amount to turn the company from a vision into a reality. Bill’s story will inspire you to believe in the good in people, and motivate you to get out there and find your own kind-hearted investors who believe in your social enterprise.

In This Episode:

[01:03] - Why did Bill start Blue Star Recyclers, and what has the journey been like so far?

[03:39] - Bill talks more about learning the recycling industry, which he was completely unfamiliar with before he started researching it to create his company.

[05:12] - Tom points out the importance of being honest about the things you don’t know, which is similar to what Bill has been talking about.

[05:52] - How did Bill find people who helped fill his knowledge gaps, and build his team? In his answer, Bill reveals how much of an impact his quest to find a truck had on the business.

[07:40] - We hear about a couple of the people who Bill has hired so far.

[09:36] - The motive for both Blue Star Recyclers and Rising Tide Car Wash was to do good and put people to work, not to make heaps of money, Bill points out.

[11:22] - Bill talks more about the mentors who helped him figure out how to build the business from a technical perspective.

[13:21] - We learn about the process of going from for-profit to non-profit, and what Bill’s plan is for the future of the organization.

[16:11] - Tom draws out some of the statistics and business advantages that Bill had mentioned related to employing individuals with disabilities. Bill then talks about how he takes advantage of those benefits, as well as how remarkable the impact of the work has been for several of his employees.

[19:45] - Bill has learned that people on the spectrum are inherently safe employees because they don’t deviate from the procedure that you give them.

[20:22] - Bill thinks that he and Tom may end up saving their respective industries, and explains why.

[21:53] - Other employers who employ the entry-level workforce have problems that Bill doesn’t experience at all with his employees.

[24:35] - Tom points out that you need to be able to take the long view if you’re planning to stay in business for a long time.

[25:20] - What advice would Tom give to people who are looking to start social enterprises and hire individuals with autism?

[27:47] - Tom lists some ways for listeners to find his company and help them out.

Links and Resources:

Bill Morris on LinkedIn

Blue Star Recyclers

Blue Star Recyclers on Facebook

Tom D’Eri

Rising Tide Car Wash

Rising Tide U

Autism Advantage

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

Dec 23 2016

29mins

Play

007 - Setting Up Shop & Crowdfunding

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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.

Tiffany Fixter is the founder of Brewability Lab. At the time we recorded this conversation, it was still in the preparation phases and wasn’t yet up and running thanks to bureaucratic and governmental red tape. Now, though, I’m thrilled to say that Brewability Lab is fully operational and you can visit them (and enjoy some great beers) in Denver, Colorado!

A special education teacher by trade, Tiffany has an incredible entrepreneurial spirit. She moved to Denver for a job opportunity to run a nonprofit day program with about 135 adults with developmental disabilities, about a third of whom had autism. Tiffany was surprised and disappointed to find that only one or two of these people had jobs, so she decided to do something about it!

Opening a brewery started as a playful joke, but ended up being a seriously good idea. Many aspects of running a brewery are ideal for those with autism and developmental disabilities, as you’ll hear in our conversation. Tiffany will also talk about how she raised the funds to start the business largely through crowdfunding campaigns, which definitely had lots of cons to go along with the pros.

After the successful crowdfunding efforts, Tiffany and her dad were lucky enough to find a rare opportunity: a turnkey brewery. She put the Kickstarter money down as a deposit with just ten minutes to spare. Despite this stroke of luck, her #1 recommendation is to borrow double the money that you think you’ll need for your social enterprise, because it always costs more than you expect.

Listen to the episode to hear more of Tiffany’s thoughts on crowdfunding, her advice for entrepreneurs considering getting into a social venture, how much work it takes to get started (and the reason she’s been cleaning toilets all summer instead of teaching), and why it’s so important to have people around to help even when you’re trying to do everything yourself.

In This Episode:

[00:56] - What was Tiffany’s inspiration for starting Brewability Lab?

[02:34] - Tiffany talks more about the details of how Brewability Lab will operate once it opens, and discusses why the brewery is ideal for people with autism and other developmental disabilities.

[03:50] - Right now, they only have a few employees in training for when the brewery opens. They don’t want to hire too many people before they’re closer to opening, which is slowed down by governmental red tape.

[05:12] - Tiffany acknowledges that there’s frustration with them for not being open yet, and goes into more detail about the amazing amounts of time, money, and patience it takes to open a brewery.

[07:08] - Starting any business is tough, Tom agrees, and points out that it’s even harder for a retail setting with a lot of regulatory issues.

[08:58] - We hear more about Tiffany’s campaigns on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, as well as their fundraising events. She discusses some of the pros and cons of crowdfunding this way.

[12:58] - Tiffany wasn’t working during the time of the crowdfunding projects, and needed to treat them as a more-than-full-time job.

[14:02] - The woman who gave Tiffany the final $3,000 donation to meet the goal came through the Rocky Mountain Down Syndrome Association.

[14:32] - One of the greatest strengths of crowdfunding, Tom points out, is that you get to see whether people really want something.

[15:13] - We hear more about what Tiffany learned through the course of the process of crowdfunding and opening Brewability Lab.

[17:25] - Tom explains that when they were starting Rising Tide Car Wash, they realized that the business had an impact not only in employing individuals, but also in communicating the message of how capable people with autism and other disabilities are.

[18:30] - Now that Tiffany has done the crowdfunding process, would she recommend it to others as a fundraising method?

[20:25] - The entrepreneurial journey is not an easy road, Tom explains. He and Tiffany then talk about the costs of a crowdfunding campaign, which often costs around $10,000 to do well.

[22:46] - What are the most important things that Tiffany has learned about starting a social enterprise?

[25:35] - Tiffany lists some ways that people can help her with the brewery, whether that’s through advice, money, or help with electrical issues!

[27:17] - Tiffany has gotten some pretty nasty emails from people who don’t like her concept, including one from someone she used to work for who accused her of taking advantage of people with disabilities. Tom responds with advice to listen to these people, but not remember what they say.

Links and Resources:

Brewability Lab

Tiffany Fixter on LinkedIn

Brewability Lab on Kickstarter

Brewability Lab on Indiegogo

Fiverr

Rocky Mountain Down Syndrome Association

Tom D’Eri

Rising Tide Car Wash

Rising Tide U

Autism Advantage

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

Dec 16 2016

29mins

Play

006 - How to Create Autism Jobs While Keeping Your Own

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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.

My fantastic guest today is James Emmett, who is one of the world’s leading disability employment consultants. James is and has been the driving force behind many large corporate programs for people with autism and other disabilities at major companies such as TIAA-CREF, Best Buy, Walgreens, Pepsi, and Office Depot. He was also instrumental in helping us at Rising Tide Car Wash get off the ground.

In 2004, James met Randy Lewis, the senior vice president at Walgreens. Randy invited James the opportunity to help plan out the Walgreen outreach initiative that focused on people with autism. This experience helped James realize how much potential there was within corporate situations for people with autism. Since having learned about this incredible potential, he has taken that awareness to other companies and created opportunities there.

There are so many benefits for a company when it comes to hiring people with autism. James has seen an increase in morale among the incoming employees with autism, but also the current employees at a company that launches an autism-related initiative. Companies also experience their cultures changing to be positive and forward-thinking. These are just a few of the many great benefits that James describes.

I’m excited to have James on the show because he offers such a different perspective than many of our previous guests. Instead of having opened a new business geared toward employing people with autism, James’ extensive experience is with working within existing organizations to create employment opportunities for individuals with autism.

Don’t miss this great episode, in which we also talk about some of the specific advantages of employing people with autism, why hiring these people can help create systems that turn out to be better than the existing ones for neurotypical employees, how important it is to have community support, and much more.

In This Episode:

[01:37] - What inspired James to work with large companies and help them harness the advantages of employing people with autism and other disabilities?

[03:18] - James describes what it’s like to work with these companies and create programs for employing people with autism.

[04:44] - We hear about the realizations that people come to in terms of the specific advantages of employing people with autism.

[06:53] - Tom draws out something unique about what James have said: that individuals with autism and other disabilities have faced barriers their whole lives, and have needed to learn to break through them. They bring this grit and resilience to their employers.

[07:23] - James talks more about how this familiarity with breaking through obstacles translates to the work environment. Tom then relates what James has said to the way that they hire people at Rising Tide Car Wash.

[10:28] - When James is talking to a new client, how does he communicate the specific benefits that he and Tom have been discussing?

[13:18] - James talks about how translating what happens at a few sites to the broader organization works.

[15:19] - Tom digs into how the ripple effect from making changes at one distribution center can change things for many more people.

[16:24] - We hear more about how James has convinced people that this will positively affect the daily operations of a business.

[19:38] - How would James recommend that someone who works at an organization that doesn’t currently have a disability employment program go about starting something and creating change at their company?

[21:42] - Tom elaborates on the advice James has been giving about getting support from the community.

[22:43] - James hopes that within the next ten years is that every Fortune 500 company will have a disability inclusion strategy.

[25:24] - How can listeners get in touch with James or hire him as a consultant to help them navigate their disability employment strategy?

Links and Resources:

JEC

James Emmett & Co

James Emmett on LinkedIn

@JamesEmmett on Twitter

ADVICE

Randy Lewis

Disability inclusion at Walgreens

TIAA-CREF

Best Buy

Walgreens

Pepsi

Office Depot

Tom D’Eri

Rising Tide Car Wash

Rising Tide U

Autism Advantage

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

FAU Center for Autism & Related Disabilities

Broward County Public Schools

The Dan Marino Foundation

Autism Speaks

New York Collaborates for Autism

The Poses Family Foundation

Dec 12 2016

27mins

Play

005 - The Reality of Starting a Business

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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.

Valerie Herskowitz is one of my fellow South Florida autism entrepreneurs and the founder of The Chocolate Spectrum Cafe and Academy. So far, the cafe only employs adults with autism or developmental disabilities, and Val has been learning to do just about every aspect of running the business herself. While this is complicated in the early stages, it’s a strength in that she’ll be intimately familiar with every facet of the business.

Val had been involved in pastry and chocolates as a hobby, never thinking she would turn it into anything more. After semi-retiring, though, she had the time to expand this sweet hobby into a full business. Coincidentally, this timing worked out just as she was looking into post-high-school resources for her son Blake, who has autism.

After Blake graduated from high school, he got more and more involved in the kitchen. Val realized that a hobby of making chocolates wasn’t going to be enough to keep Blake busy, so after getting some great reviews from friends and family, they expanded into an online venture and started selling locally. The business grew organically, until Val saw it as an employment opportunity for individuals with autism and other differently-abled employees. Now, they’ve opened a brick-and-mortar cafe.

In this conversation that took place just two months after the cafe opened, Val and I talk about her experience with turning a hobby into a full-time business and social enterprise. The best and biggest piece of advice she can give to listeners considering opening a retail location is to expect the unexpected, but she has many, many other gems of wisdom that anyone working with people with autism or considering opening a business will benefit from hearing.

Tune into this episode to hear about topics including how Blake and other employees have reacted to the opening of the retail location, her advice to people who are considering opening a business staffed by people with autism, what financial considerations you should have in mind when opening a business, and why the food business is one of the hardest areas to be in.

In This Episode:

[00:58] - Val takes us back to the beginning of her entrepreneurial journey, and explains why she started The Chocolate Spectrum. She walks us through the process all the way from the beginning ideas through the opening of their retail location.

[05:09] - We hear more about the moment when Val realized that this could be a full-time business, not just a hobby anymore.

[07:12] - Tom draws out an important point that Val has made regarding the responsibility business owners have to their employees.

[08:40] - The brick-and-mortar location has only been open for two months, and Val’s biggest piece of advice so far is to expect the unexpected.

[11:24] - Val explains that even her little shop seems overwhelming, but expects it to become easier as it becomes more familiar.

[14:07] - How have Blake and the rest of the team responded to the opening of the new location? Val describes how Blake has reacted, and the sorts of things that she has needed to teach and work on with the other employees.

[17:33] - Tom talks about the scripting and training for people with autism for interacting with the public, which is part of Rising Tide Car Wash as well.

[19:01] - Val takes a moment to rave about their local community in Florida, which is relatively autism-aware. She then mentions things she adds to the script, such as recommendations to visit the dry cleaners next door who consistently promote the cafe.

[22:33] - What advice would Val give someone who’s looking to start a business and employ people with autism?

[23:58] - When Tom gives workshops and reaches the part about funding, he needs to point out that there really aren’t very many grants out there for this subject and that grants probably won’t be your primary source of funding.

[25:10] - Val didn’t decide to start an autism-focused business and then settle on one that fits that criterion well. Instead, she opened a business in something she was already doing. In hindsight, she might have done things differently.

[28:02] - Tom points out that every social enterprise has its own path.

[30:20] - Val passes along one other piece of advice that she has found invaluable, which is to find people who know what to do who are willing to help you.

[32:04] - How can listeners get involved with The Chocolate Spectrum? She recommends visiting the cafe, but if you don’t live locally, you can shop online too!

Links and Resources:

The Chocolate Spectrum Cafe and Academy

The Chocolate Spectrum: shop online

Valerie Herksowitz

Valerie Herksowitz 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

Dec 02 2016

34mins

Play

004 - The Poppin Joe’s Story: Building a Business on a Shoestring Budget

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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.

Ray Steffey, along with his son Joe, founded Poppin’ Joe’s Gourmet Kettle Korn. We’ve had the opportunity to share Ray’s story quite a bit in our Awakening the Autism Entrepreneur workshops, and the reason behind the company really resonates with the people who have come. As you’ll hear in this episode, the company’s story begins when Joe was in high school. Ray was told that Joe has no attention span, can’t say on task, would probably never hold a job, and would likely live in a group home for his whole life. 

When he heard this in April of 2000, Ray knew that he had to prove these predictions wrong. On a cruise to Alaska, he saw a booth with a constant line, and discovered it was selling kettle corn. He watched the process of making and selling the corn, and realized that the multiple tasks involved might be perfect for Joe. They bought used equipment, and on October 1, 2000 -- less than half a year after that fateful conversation at Joe’s school -- they had their first event. 

They sold several hundred dollars’ of kettle corn that first weekend, and have been developing their business ever since. Joe became the owner of the kettle corn business in April 2005. Since then, the business has grown so much that he’s selling over $70,000 in popcorn every year.

In terms of daily functionality, Joe doesn’t like to repeat one task over and over. The other workers in the business know that Joe is the owner, so when he approaches the station where they’re working (such as the bagging station), their job is to go to the station he just came from (such as the mixing station).

You’ll also learn in this episode how Joe is able to handle being at large venues with tens of thousands of people even though he doesn’t like being around more than a handful of people at a time, how the business is staying in the family across several generations, Ray’s advice to people who are considering starting a business, and much more!

In This Episode:

[00:58] - Ray talks about why he started Poppin’ Joe’s, sharing the story of the moment he knew that he had to prove people wrong and ensure Joe would have a productive, fulfilling life.

[03:27] - We learn that diving into the business was fairly straightforward because the people who sold Ray the equipment already had dates for sales lined up, so they just had to call the venues and finish getting everything lined up.

[04:46] - Ray talks about where the funding for Poppin’ Joe’s came from, and how successful the business is today.

[06:32] - Going into the process, did Ray think the business would definitely succeed? Did he know that Joe would gravitate toward the work? As Ray answers, he shares some information on the practical details of how the business runs.

[07:48] - Joe doesn’t like to be around a lot of people, and tends to disappear at family gatherings, for example. Ray talks about how this has played out when the business has been at a festival with thousands of people.

[09:26] - Tom points out that Ray couldn’t have known for long that this was going to be the path for Joe, since he only discovered kettle corn during that trip to Alaska. At what point did Ray figure out that this was what they would do for Joe?

[11:30] - We learn about how Ray helps Joe make the connection between the work he does and the positive things he gets to do with the money he earns.

[12:17] - Joe is 30, and his parents are in their 70s. They put the word out that they’re looking for a co-owner for the business to ensure it moves forward once Ray and his wife aren’t able to be as actively involved, and now their oldest grandson has indicated interest.

[13:50] - Tom shares his perspective on involving multiple generations in an autism-involved business, and making it endure.

[13:38] - What would be Ray’s advice for people who are looking to start a business?

[16:38] - Tom points out that what Ray is describing is a full and fulfilling life, and the ideal small business entrepreneur’s lifestyle.

[17:50] - We hear Tom’s thoughts on Ray’s point about feeling like ordinary folks who decided to do something and ended up going on a great journey.

[19:37] - How would Ray advise somebody who wants to figure out what their son or daughter with autism is interested in, with the goal of starting a business around it?

[21:59] - Ray lists some ways that listeners can get involved with the business (other than buying their kettle corn!).

Links and Resources:

Poppin’ Joe’s Gourmet Kettle Korn

Poppin Joe’s Kettle Corn on Facebook

@PoppinJoes on Twitter

Contact Poppin’ Joe’s

Awakening the Autism Entrepreneur

Tom D’Eri

Rising Tide Car Wash

Rising Tide U

Autism Advantage

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

Nov 25 2016

23mins

Play

Lessons From the Trenches – A Follow up conversation with Brewability Labs

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Welcome to the Autism Advantage podcast! I’m your host, Tom D’Eri. Throughout the first seven episodes of season 2, we chronicled the process of opening a second location of Rising Tide Car Wash, where we employ people with autism. If you tuned in, you heard all about how we planned this location, interviewed and trained our fantastic new employees, how the opening went, and much more.

For the final three episodes of this season, we’re changing things up a bit! We want to revisit some of the incredible entrepreneurs who we featured in season 1 to hear about how their journeys have progressed since we last heard from them. Today, we’ll be talking to Tiffany Fixter of Brewability Lab. When we last spoke in season 1 episode 7, the company was dealing with red tape and hadn’t quite opened yet. Go listen to that episode for some background, and then tune in here to learn how much has changed!

As a quick refresher, Tiffany was a special education teacher who was disappointed to find out how few people with autism have jobs. So, having the entrepreneurial spirit that she does, she decided that she would do something about it! After a successful crowdfunding effort, Tiffany found a turnkey brewery and put down a deposit on it. That’s when they ran into some red tape -- and when we had our last conversation!

Now, Brewability Lab has been open for just over a year. Tiffany’s employees have experienced incredible growth since then, thanks in large part to the systems she has set up to facilitate the process. For example, there are braille labels on the bar taps so that a bartender who is blind can function at his best.

Because of their hidden location, Brewability Lab is still struggling to keep up with bills. The alternative to this location, Tiffany points out, is a downtown location that costs tens of thousands of dollars per month. In our conversation, she explains various other ideas she has for how to make the business more profitable, while making clear how difficult the financial aspect has been. This is a great reminder to entrepreneurs that you should always budget for the unexpected and expect your costs to be higher than your initial projections.

In our conversation today, Tiffany and I will talk about lots of other topics including various kinds of advertising and marketing, some tools that can help you drive more traffic to your business (and one strategy you should definitely avoid), and what advice we can give to entrepreneurs in the early stages of opening a business. Tune in, enjoy this final episode of season 2, and don’t forget to come back when we return with season 3!

In This Episode:

[00:54] - Tiffany takes a moment to explain what Brewability Labs is, and why she started it, for listeners who may not be familiar with the venture.

[01:31] - We hear about where Tiffany’s company is now, and how it’s been doing. She also talks about what she’s done to facilitate the incredible progress that her employees have made since the opening.

[03:17] - Money is still a struggle after being operational for over a year, Tiffany reveals.

[04:11] - What are Tiffany’s next steps? She explores both the reasons why it’s so hard to make any money in her business and the ideas she has for increasing profitability.

[08:44] - Tiffany has sold off everything she can other than the absolute necessities to be a brewery, she reveals. She then addresses whether she has sources to get grants from, and invites listeners to email her if they have ideas.

[09:43] - We hear Tiffany’s thoughts about opening a pizzeria.

[11:04] - Tom brings up two important points related to what Tiffany has been saying.

[12:15] - What has Tiffany learned from the brewery and transferring to the pizzeria idea? She talks specifically about the location issue.

[13:04] - The company’s advertising is pretty much word-of-mouth at this point, Tiffany reveals. She discusses whether she has considered online advertising.

[16:46] - Is there a common thread between the people organizing the events that Tiffany has been talking about?

[18:21] - Tom recommends Mogl to Tiffany and any listeners who are interested in doing more online advertising. Tiffany then complains about her experience with Groupon and explains why she’s no longer on the site.

[20:56] - What would Tiffany say to other people who are looking into starting a social enterprise?

[22:30] - Tiffany addresses the question of whether she has thought about doing any type of internship programs. Tom then offers some recommendations about opening a new business.

[25:22] - The extra costs that come up in a business are really scary, Tiffany reveals, using the example of transportation.

[30:13] - Tiffany offers suggestions on what listeners can do to help her business, from making a tax-deductible donation to spreading the word to contacting her with any leads or advice on moving forward.

Links and Resources:

Brewability Lab

Tiffany Fixter on LinkedIn

Brewability Lab on Kickstarter

Brewability Lab on Indiegogo

Tom D’Eri

Rising Tide Car Wash

Rising Tide U

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

Mogl

Groupon

Jan 20 2018

31mins

Play

Diversifying Impact – A Follow up conversation with the Chocolate Spectrum

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Welcome to the Autism Advantage podcast! I’m your host, Tom D’Eri. Throughout the first seven episodes of season 2, we chronicled the process of opening a second location of Rising Tide Car Wash, where we employ people with autism. If you tuned in, you heard all about how we planned this location, interviewed and trained our fantastic new employees, how the opening went, and much more.

For the final three episodes of this season, we’re changing things up a bit! We want to revisit some of the incredible entrepreneurs who we featured in season 1 to hear about how their journeys have progressed since we last heard from them. In today’s episode, we’re featuring the awesome Valerie Herskowitz, founder of The Chocolate Spectrum Cafe and Academy. If you haven’t already heard her in the fifth episode of season 1, go listen to that now and then come back here!

You may remember that Val was inspired to expand her sweet hobby into a business as her son with autism, Blake, was graduating from high school. After expanding their chocolate venture online, they opened a brick-and-mortar cafe just a couple of months before our previous conversation. All of the employees had autism or were otherwise differently abled.

Since our last conversation, there has been a huge change in the training side of things. Val explains that she has mostly just gone with the flow with the business, following the opportunities that presented themselves, instead of having a huge long-term master plan. She explains in this conversation that it occurred to her that they should see if the coffee industry could possibly be something that would work for individuals with autism. With the right equipment and support systems, they found that their employees can be very successful in this role.

The strongest revenue stream has continued to be online shopping, while retail continues to be weak and disappointing in terms of walk-in traffic. The levels haven’t reached what they expected, which Val attributes to location. In response, Val sends out flyers and came up with the idea of developing a Facebook page just for the retailers in her shopping center. Another strategy for increasing their revenue has been branching out into wholesale.

In addition to talking about all of this, Val speaks with great detail (and passion) about her new training program for teens with autism, explaining why it’s so necessary. Tune into this great episode to hear this and much more!

In This Episode:

[01:05] - For listeners who didn’t hear our previous conversation, Val explains what The Chocolate Spectrum Cafe and Academy is and what inspired her to start the company.

[01:50] - How has the company grown over the last year since our previous conversation? In her answer, Val talks about the company branching into coffee.

[06:45] - Val discusses taking the skills that their employees were learning in their coffee training program and put them into an employment situation.

[08:30] - How many people are working at the satellites Val has been describing, and what is her vision for them?

[11:05] - Tom clarifies: Val is using her primary location as a hub and for training, with satellite operations around it to increase distribution and employ more people.

[11:27] - Val talks about how she plans on managing all of this.

[14:35] - We back up a bit to hear how “home base,” the Chocolate Spectrum retail store, is doing these days.

[18:18] - Tom has a couple of suggestions for ways that Val (and listeners, of course!) can market online. He recommends using Mogl and geofencing.

[21:36] - Val shifts into talking specifically about employee growth, and discusses certifications for training and placing people in the community.

[24:53] - The biggest thing that Val’s company provides is teaching their employees how to be employed, since they don’t typically have experience in what is involved in the process and what the expectations are.

[26:04] - Val has always wanted to work with teens, because she feels like the process of teaching the skills that she has described should be started younger. Tom then elaborates on the need for this kind of training.

[27:35] - We learn that Val was able to secure a separate grant for teen training, and will be working with the first group of teens this year.

[28:57] - The biggest challenge Val has experienced with the teens she’s worked with so far is having them learn to work together.

[31:10] - The last thing Val is developing right now to increase their revenue is a wholesale business, which she describes.

[34:12] - How can listeners support Val? In her answer, she talks about a piece of advice that Tom’s dad gave her that she didn’t really believe before.

[36:58] - Tom shares his thoughts on why people who have been touched by autism don’t automatically support businesses like The Chocolate Spectrum and Rising Tide Car Wash, instead of bigger businesses.

Links and Resources:

The Chocolate Spectrum Cafe and Academy

The Chocolate Spectrum: shop online

Valerie Herksowitz

Valerie Herksowitz on LinkedIn

Tom D’Eri

Rising Tide Car Wash

Rising Tide U

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

Mogl

Geofencing

The Loving Push by Temple Grandin

Special Treats

Jan 20 2018

39mins

Play

Growing Smart – A Follow up conversation with Katie’s Snack Cart

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Welcome to the Autism Advantage podcast! I’m your host, Tom D’Eri. Throughout the first seven episodes of season 2, we chronicled the process of opening a second location of Rising Tide Car Wash, where we employ people with autism. If you tuned in, you heard all about how we planned this location, interviewed and trained our fantastic new employees, how the opening went, and much more.

For the final three episodes of this season, we’re going to change things up a bit! We want to revisit some of the incredible entrepreneurs who we featured in season 1 to hear about how their journeys have progressed since we last heard from them. Today, we’re featuring Wendy Kohman, who you’ll remember from the third episode of season 1. (If you haven’t already heard it, go listen now and then come back to this one!)

In our last conversation, Wendy described how she came up with the idea of Katie’s Snack Cart, and why it was a good fit for Katie, her daughter who has autism. In short, the company sells more healthful alternatives to the junk foods that are typically available in offices. Workers with autism push food carts from desk to desk in offices, selling these foods.

Katie’s Snack Cart has grown wonderfully since it opened with just Katie and a cart. The company now employs six adults with special needs on the team. Their roles are split between baking snacks to sell and pushing the carts, which now operate in nine businesses. The employees are deservedly proud of themselves for their role in creating a successful small business.

When we last talked with Wendy, the products sold through Katie’s Snack Cart were premade products that they bought to sell, with the exception of Wendy’s banana bread. Now, they make lots of their own baked things, and employ several more people to help in the kitchen. This allows them to hire people with very different abilities, skills, and strengths.

Wendy also talks about the process of finding new employees, how work support roles have functioned for their employees, the ways in which the company has grown since our conversation a year earlier, how customers at their various client businesses react and respond to the social mission, and much more. If you’re ready for inspiration on how successful a small business supporting autism can be, even for someone without experience as an entrepreneur, don’t miss this episode!

In This Episode:

[01:00] - Wendy reminds listeners what Katie’s Snack Cart is, what the company does, and what inspired her to start the company.

[02:06] - We hear what’s been happening with Katie’s Snack Cart in the year or so since we first talked with Wendy.

[04:10] - Where has Wendy found these employees, and how has the experience of expanding gone for Wendy?

[05:37] - Tom reveals that they had over 600 applicants for their second store, but held people off until they had legitimate jobs for more people.

[06:38] - We hear more about the shift from prepackaged snacks to more of their own baked goods on the snack carts.

[08:46] - Wendy describes in more detail how she runs the operation, specifically in terms of having support people for her employees with autism or special needs. She discusses one of the complications, but overall thinks it’s a great choice.

[10:44] - Where is Wendy going to find clients, and how does she define who their potential (and ideal) clients are?

[13:14] - We learn Wendy’s plan for how to reach out to potential new clients, and mentions how important it is to do a trial run so that the business can see how much value Katie’s Snack Cart offers.

[15:55] - Wendy talks more about the customers’ reaction to the social mission.

[17:59] - Recently, the company went and Christmas caroled at one of their client businesses, Wendy explains.

[18:59] - One of the things that’s sold on the snack carts are cards featuring artwork by another person with autism. We hear about how this went, why Wendy thinks more cards didn’t sell, and why it was a great experience anyway./

[20:03] - Tom explains that a young entrepreneur wanted to sell pies at Rising Tide Car Wash on certain days, and had a similar experience to what Wendy described.

[20:56] - What advice does Wendy have for people who are looking to start a business? Her inspirational answer may be exactly what you need to hear if you’ve been considering opening a business of your own.

[23:05] - Wendy talks about a few simple ways that listeners can help out her company, as well as the autism community at large.

Links and Resources:

Katie’s Snack Cart

Katie’s Snack Cart on Facebook

@KatiesSnackCart on Twitter

katiessnackcart@gmail.com

Wendy Kohman on LinkedIn

Wendy Kohman on Instagram

Tom D’Eri

Tom Sena

Rising Tide Car Wash

Rising Tide U

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

Jan 20 2018

24mins

Play

Marketing, Marketing, Marketing

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Welcome to the Autism Advantage podcast! I’m your host, Tom D’Eri, and my co-host for this season is Tom Sena. Throughout season 2, we’ll be chronicling the process of opening a second location of Rising Tide Car Wash, where we employ people with autism.

We’ve been making great progress throughout this podcast. In the previous episodes this season, we’ve talked about planning our second location, the interview and training processes, our successful opening, and the role of our employees who don’t have autism. Now we’re going to talk about digital marketing.

One important thing we’ve noticed that we’re lacking is continually engaging with our community and customers, and telling our story. We realized that, while many of our customers understand exactly what our company does, there are quite a few who had no idea. This was our fault for not being clear and outgoing enough with communicating our story, and so we decided to change that. We decided to do this through digital marketing instead of opting for standard car wash marketing techniques, such as door hangers or printouts.

We estimate that about half of the people who come through our car wash don’t know about our social mission, despite many million views on our videos online. Now, we’re figuring out how to tell our story to our audience, meaning anyone over 16 years old who lives within five miles of either of our locations.

To achieve this, we’re using Facebook, Google Adwords, Yelp, Waze, and more. We’ve been emphasizing sharing our story and mission, because that’s what sets us apart. Instead of just trying to compete on the standard categories of speed, quality, and cost, we’re giving customers something else to engage with. With that said, we also have great service; that’s why half of our customers keep coming back despite not knowing our mission!

We’ll dig into all of these topics in this episode, as well as much more. You’ll hear about why we focus our energy (and ad dollars) on Facebook instead of Yelp, what we do on location to drive home our mission, how we bumped up our Facebook performance, and what tools you can use while starting your own enterprise.

In This Episode:

[00:30] - Tom S. talks about digital marketing! He discusses the need to engage with customers and tell the company’s story.

[02:15] - For a company that has a collective 65+ million views on their videos, it’s amazing how many people in the local market don’t know about their social mission, Tom D. points out.

[04:02] - Tom D. explains that they’re finding the most effective way to get the word out is digital marketing. Tom S. digs into what this means, what techniques they use, and why digital marketing is so powerful now.

[06:42] - We hear about some of the interesting things that they’ve been finding through using digital marketing.

[08:31] - Another interesting thing that they’ve found is what type of content is engaging on Facebook. Tom S. talks about their experience with letting people in the local community know about their special offers.

[10:57] - Telling your mission in an authentic way is the best way to create lasting clients, Tom S. points out, and talks about some reactions to their Facebook post.

[13:30] - Tom D. draws out some of what Tom S. has been talking about. He points out that every car wash talks about price, quality, and speed.

[15:45] - Tom S. talks about the importance of targeting ads. They have found that their ad dollars are much better spent targeting women than men, for example.

[16:31] - We hear about something that didn’t work out very well for Rising Tide Car Wash: advertising on Yelp.

[18:01] - Tom D. brings up another point: what they’re doing onsite after driving customers into the store through digital ad campaigns. Tom S. then digs more deeply into their onsite marketing techniques and strategies.

[21:18] - We hear some tactics and advice for those who are starting their own enterprise. Tom D. explains that they use Canva to design things themselves. Another tool they use is Promo by Slidely.

[23:55] - Before signing off, Tom D. brings up one more point: Facebook content. He offers an example of a company that does a great job on Facebook, and talks about what they learned by observing how that company uses the platform.

[26:08] - Tom S. points out that nobody knows your brand and business better than you and your employees.

Links and Resources:

Tom D’Eri

Tom Sena

Rising Tide Car Wash

Rising Tide U

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

Facebook ads

Google Adwords

Yelp

Waze ads

Split testing

Canva

Promo by Slidely

Gary Vaynerchuk

Bitty & Beau’s Coffee

Jan 20 2018

27mins

Play

Typical Staffing Needs – Recruiting Training Deploying

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Welcome to the Autism Advantage podcast! I’m your host, Tom D’Eri, and my co-host for this season is Tom Sena. Throughout season 2, we’ll be chronicling the process of opening a second location of Rising Tide Car Wash, where we employ people with autism.

In the first half of this season, we’ve already covered a lot of ground! We’ve discussed planning the new location, interviewing dozens of people in one day, the pre-training process for our new employees, the live training process, and the successful opening of Rising Tide’s second location. Now, moving into the second half of the season, we’re ready to talk about the other 20% of our staff -- the employees who don’t have autism.

These employees are incredibly important to the overall structure of the organization. They help coach and train the rest of the employees, and are generally the frontline for customer experience. They navigate the communication, explain the service, and set expectations. While they’re vital to our organization, it can be challenging to find typical people who want to work at a car wash and see the work as an opportunity to grow and have impact.

When we’re looking for our typical employees, we want two main traits: someone who has both grit (as defined by Angela Duckworth) and assertiveness, or the ability to advocate for their own and others’ rights. We always have two interviewers present so that we can have different perspectives on the interview. Once it’s over, we score the interview on a scale of up to 40 points. We typically hire people at 28 points or better; our all-time record so far is a 36. 

We’ve had a lot of good luck with two social archetypes. The first is opportunity youth. These people might have just graduated high school, or be a year or two out from it. They’re typically people who have found that college isn’t for them at this point, for one reason or another, and who often need a job to help support their families. The other social archetype that tends to work well for us is high school students looking for their first job. 

Listen to this episode to hear the details on all of these subjects! We also chat about the overall structure of our organization, how we scale culture with a framework called “disciplined compassion,” and why it generally doesn’t work well for us to hire college students or recent college grads.

In This Episode:

[00:31] - Tom S. talks about how the employees without autism are, in many ways, the backbone of the company who support its structure.

[01:58] - Right now, all but two employees on the management team are typical.

[02:38] - Tom D. points out that they don’t have any job coaches on their staff for a very specific reason.

[03:42] - We learn about some of the ways that they go about finding typical employees. Tom D. talks about the interview process and how they decide whether to hire a particular applicant based on a scoring system.

[05:23] - Tom D. discusses the role of talent in their roles for both typical people and people with autism. He then reveals that there are two typical archetypes that typically work well for them: opportunity youth and high school students.

[07:53] - Tom S. talks about where the company is right now in terms of their overall organizational structure.

[10:13] - It was right as they were about to open the second location that they started to see some issues with some of their typical employees. We lost two of our supervisors in the weeks leading up to the opening of the second location, and had to let go of a third right after the first week of the second location.

[12:24] - How do you ensure that you have the right culture fit when hiring typical people, and what are you looking for in the interview to make sure they’ll be successful? As he addresses these questions, Tom D. talks about how they scale culture.

[13:39] - Tom D. lists the six different pillars of disciplined compassion.

[16:12] - We hear more about exactly what prioritizing purpose really means. Tom D. then points out that another of the pillars is grit, which they mentioned earlier in the conversation.

[17:29] - The bonuses that they give their management are tied into these pillars. This incentivizes the employee to be aligned with these principles.

[18:30] - Tom D. shares a story of a young man who is just getting his promotion to assistant manager.

[20:17] - Tom S. explains that it would have been a disservice to this man to give him the assistant manager role before he was ready for it.

[20:59] - Another thing that Tom S. wants to talk about are the employees who are a slower, long-term play.

[22:54] - It’s so important to be disciplined in withholding judgment for the first six weeks (or even six months), Tom D. points out.

[25:36] - One thing they’ve found in their successful employees is that they have sustained engagement in what they’re doing, regardless of what the task is. Tom S. then talks about some of their recruiting sources.

[27:45] - Tom D. offers a note to anyone operating (or thinking about operating) a social enterprise.

Links and Resources:

Tom D’Eri

Tom Sena

Rising Tide Car Wash

Rising Tide U

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

Hurricane Irma

Angela Duckworth

Extraordinary Ventures

Jan 20 2018

30mins

Play

2nd Store Open – Frontlines from 1st week

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Welcome to the Autism Advantage podcast! I’m your host, Tom D’Eri, and my co-host for this season is Tom Sena. Throughout season 2, we’ll be chronicling the process of opening a second location of Rising Tide Car Wash, where we employ people with autism.

In the first four episodes of this season, we discussed our plans for our new location, the day of nearly a hundred interviews, our pre-training process, and how we proceeded with live training. With our amazing new employees trained and ready to go, we did it! We opened Rising Tide’s second location!

In this episode, we’ll be talking about the process of opening the new location. Now that we’ve finished up the first week of operations with both stores running, we’re ready to talk about how things went! Instead of putting all the new employees in the new location, we knew it was vital to have a mix of experience levels. We moved about half of our experienced employees to the new location, so each of the two locations is now staffed by half experienced employees and half new employees.

This meant our existing employees really need to step up and take on more responsibility and leadership, and they’ve done such a great job. The new employees have been fantastic too, as they learn all of the other parts of working with us that weren’t specifically covered in the live training shifts. 

Our approach involves three facets that we envision as being a pyramid. At the base is the process of cleaning the car. Once our employees understand this basic process, we move up the pyramid to the next layer: quality. We ensure that all of our employees understand just how clean a car needs to be. Finally, at the top of the pyramid is speed. This is the phase we’re currently in, as our employees learn to clean cars in 20 minutes or under.

Tune into this episode to hear much more about all of this! You’ll also learn about how we addressed some issues with some of our employees not understanding the need to be on time, why we see scripts as an important part of the business, and that some of our employees without autism have been more of a challenge than the ones with autism.

In This Episode:

[00:21] - Tom S. reveals that the opening of the second location wasn’t completely smooth, partly thanks to Hurricane Irma.

[00:57] - How are the employees -- old and new alike -- acclimating to the situation with the new location?

[02:26] - Tom S. digs deeper into the differences between live training shifts and full shifts now that the second location is open. He also discusses how they’ve addressed tardiness among some of the new employees.

[04:52] - Tom D. explores one of the strategies they used to correct tardiness.

[05:18] - We hear about the three-pronged approach involving the basic process, quality, and speed. Tom D. explains this as being like a pyramid, with the basic process as the base and quality as the next step.

[08:25] - The peak of the pyramid is ramping up the speed. Tom D. talks about some strategies they use to encourage their employees to work quickly and ensure customers aren’t waiting around too long at the car wash.

[09:40] - If you’re interested in creating your own enterprise, Tom S. offers some tips on where to focus your attention.

[10:36] - Tom D. compares the process of opening and growing the first store with the experience of opening this one.

[11:37] - Their employees with autism have been the least of their problems, Tom S. points out. He explains that everybody who they brought into live training has worked out and shown an eagerness to be a valuable team member.

[12:37] - One of their employees has some behavioral issues involving outbursts. Tom D. talks about how they’ve handled this.

[15:02] - Tom S. talks about how important it is to be direct and make sure employees know exactly where they stand.

[16:15] - Tom D. talks about customer reactions. Overall, the customers are really happy. He also explains that they’ve put together scripts for their employees to address different subjects brought up by customers.

[18:04] - One thing that they recognized very early on as important was the scripting, Tom S. agrees. This is why their greeter has been one of their most important roles.

[19:49] - Tom D. gives a shout-out to the company’s CEO (and his dad), John D’Eri, who really understands how to handle objections and how important scripting is.

[20:30] - In addition to the scripts, Tom S. points out that understanding and looking out for customer feedback is a big point of emphasis.

[22:00] - Tom D. touches on one more thing, which will be addressed in more detail in the next episode: the hardest thing so far has been the part of their workforce that isn’t on the autism spectrum.

[24:01] - A big question that they get from other autism entrepreneurs is how you get good typical support staff.

Links and Resources:

Tom D’Eri

Tom Sena

Rising Tide Car Wash

Rising Tide U

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

Hurricane Irma

John D’Eri

Jan 20 2018

25mins

Play

Hired! - Integrating Candidates into Live Shifts

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Welcome to the Autism Advantage podcast! I’m your host, Tom D’Eri, and my co-host for this season is Tom Sena. Throughout season 2, we’ll be chronicling the process of opening a second location of Rising Tide Car Wash, where we employ people with autism.

So far this season, we’ve talked about some of our plans for the second location, our big day full of dozens of interviews, and our pre-training process. In that process, as we discussed in the last episode, candidates needed to successfully complete a specific task three times in a row with a time limit. Those who were successful moved onto the next step: being offered a job!

The next step is live training, which is what we’ll be focusing on today. Our employees, who are paid from this point forward, have the core skills they’ll need at this point but aren’t quite ready to be fully effective in their roles yet. We believe that employees in each role need around nine training shifts over the course of about four weeks.

To start this process, we let our current employees know that this would be happening and that if they were ready for a well-deserved vacation after their months or years of hard work, this would be a perfect time to take it. This helped keep our costs reasonable, and also ensured that we weren’t unfairly taking shifts away from our current employees.

During an employee’s first week, it’s critical to have someone shadowing and coaching them to make sure everything is clear and that the work is done well. This gives us a fantastic opportunity to let some of our more senior employees take on new responsibilities and take a step toward larger roles.

Tune into this episode to hear more about all this, plus to learn the details of how we structure the live training process, how we balanced the needs of new employees with those who have been working with us for a while, how much we pay our new staff members during the training process,

In This Episode:

[00:44] - Tom D. launches into the podcast by describing what their live training process is, and what its goals and purpose are.

[02:23] - Tom S. steps in to point out that one of the great things about Rising Tide Car Wash is that there’s constant feedback, coaching, and training. He then digs deeper into how they mapped out the live training process.

[04:19] - During this process, for the first few shifts, they have one new employee doing the actual production work while an experienced employee shadows them to oversee the work.

[06:37] - We hear more about the extra costs involved in the live training process, and how much new employees are paid.

[07:26] - Tom D. explains that this is the first time they’ve gone through this onboarding system with so many employees at once; they usually do it with a few, and this time, they’re doing it with 45 people.

[09:20] - It’s important to make the live training shifts as realistic as they possibly can be. Tom D. talks about how they balance this consideration with the need for having extra staff on hand to coach new hires.

[10:47] - Another important point in this process is that you have to test and reassign role assignments as necessary.

[12:35] - Tom S. points out that for many of these employees, this is a first job. That means that they may not immediately understand how to be a good employee.

[13:28] - Tom D. talks about the various types of teaching moments they have when there are some kind of issues with an employee’s behavior. He gives a quick example.

[15:37] - We learn about the importance of not making assumptions about people’s motives, or whether they’re a good fit, far too early in the process. Tom D. emphasizes that 90% of the time, the person doesn’t understand what’s being asked of them.

[17:03] - Tom S. brings up a bright spot they’ve seen in the training process: the sheer number of successes so far.

[18:02] - In response to what Tom S. has been saying, Tom D. raves about how well their employees have done. Tom D. then points out how enthusiastic many of the hires are to be working at the car wash.

[19:07] - The next step is actually getting ready to launch the second location, which is now just a few weeks away!

Links and Resources:

Tom D’Eri

Tom Sena

Rising Tide Car Wash

Rising Tide U

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

Jan 20 2018

20mins

Play

Almost Employed - Passing Pre-Training

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Welcome to the Autism Advantage podcast! I’m your host, Tom D’Eri, and my co-host for this season is Tom Sena. Throughout season 2, we’ll be chronicling the process of opening a second location of Rising Tide Car Wash, where we employ people with autism.

If you’ve been tuning in this season, you know that we recently hosted our big day of interviews. We had close to a hundred candidates show up. Twenty of these didn’t have autism, and four were unsuccessful in the interview process for various reasons, but we ended up with over 50 qualified candidates who moved onto the next step, our pre-training process.

That’s what we’re here to talk about today! Pre-training involves asking our recruits to be able to do our most basic production process, which involves 39 steps, three times in a row in under six minutes each time. This pre-training process allows us to bring in people who we aren’t quite sure will be up to the task of working here, and gives them a fair shot at doing the job. It also sets our employees up for success.

For this process, we divided our candidates into groups based on their scores on the initial assessment during the first interview. We then subdivided those groups to ensure all of our candidates were working in small enough groups to be able to fully participate in the pre-training. In these small groups, the candidates were taught to do the aforementioned basic production process and then asked to do it. Those who were successful will now move onto the next step, which is live training shifts.

In this episode, we’ll also talk about how we figured out how many people we’ll need to hire in each position, how we calculated when we needed to start the hiring process to ensure our recruits are fully trained and ready by the time we open the next location, and the costs involved in completing this pre-training process. Tune in to learn more!

In This Episode:

[00:25] - Tom D. starts off the episode by describing what pre-training is and explaining the role it plays in their employment process.

[01:57] - We learn why management being on the same page was so important as Tom S. describes the first thing they did in the pre-training process.

[02:51] - Tom S. goes into more detail about exactly how the pre-training process worked, including how they divided the candidates into groups and how they worked with each small group.

[05:40] - People with similar scores were matched up in groups, Tom D. clarifies. He then points out that throughout the process, it’s important to reinforce good behaviours with specific praise.

[08:47] - Prior to designing the recruiting process, they created a mock schedule to figure out how many people they would need to fill for each position. They then assessed how many shifts new employees were likely to need before being able to work on their own, and worked backward from there to put their dates together.

[11:53] - Tom S. points out that the way they initially came up with the mock schedule was based on their current figures.

[13:41] - We hear about the costs associated with this pre-training process. For group 1, the pre-training took place over the course of three days.

[14:37] - Through the pre-training, they’re clear with the candidates that passing the pre-training means they’ll be offered employment.

[15:47] - Tom D. talks about the differences between the employment process this time compared to the first time they did it.

[17:44] - Does Tom D. notice anything different as far as support staff and people overseeing the process?

[19:27] - One challenging part of the pre-training process was collecting reliable contact information for all of the candidates.

[20:48] - Even more challenging than that is telling some people that they aren’t suitable for the job. Tom D. offers a specific example of a gentleman who was too physically strained by the work.

[22:38] - Tom S. talks about what he found to be the bright spots in the training. He then discusses the next step, which is scheduling the successful candidates for live training shifts.

Links and Resources:

Tom D’Eri

Tom Sena

Rising Tide Car Wash

Rising Tide U

Jan 20 2018

24mins

Play

Goal 80% Employees with Autism - Post Interview Results

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Welcome to the Autism Advantage podcast! I’m your host, Tom D’Eri, and my co-host for this season is Tom Sena. Throughout season 2, we’ll be chronicling the process of opening a second location of Rising Tide Car Wash, where we employ people with autism.

If you listened to our last episode, you know that we were preparing for a big event: a day of hosting around a hundred candidates in the search for the perfect people to increase our staff and allow us to open our new location. In this episode, we’ll talk about how that interview process went.

For our interviews, we’ve developed an assessment tool to score the likelihood that an interviewee will be successful at this particular job. The process takes 15-30 minutes and focuses on whether the candidate is functionally capable of working at a car wash. We knew that a traditional, conversation-based interview style tends not to let people with autism really shine, so we focus on hard skills instead. This also ensures that the candidate knows exactly what they’ll be expected to do on the job!

For this interview process, we sent out a few emails to our list. Through that process, we had about 60 people (or a little under 10% of the total number of the people on the list) sign up. We then leveraged other contacts to get quite a few more candidates.

Of the 53 people from our list who showed up, about 20 didn’t have autism. (If you’re wondering how to handle people without autism who apply, and whether you can be sued for reverse discrimination, tune into the episode!) Of everyone who showed up and had autism, though, we had a great success rate! Only four people were unsuccessful in the interview process, so we we were thrilled to be able to invite a bunch of people to the next stage of the process.

We’ll also talk in depth about topics including how we managed this massive interview process while the business was still running, how our scoring system ends up working out with our new candidates, and why we had visitors from UNC-Chapel Hill and The University of California, San Francisco.

In This Episode:

[00:27] - Tom S. reveals exactly how many people came in for the interview process, then Tom D. discusses exactly what they’re looking for in the interview process.

[02:25] - There is a very quick verbal component in the interview process, we learn, but this usually takes less than three minutes.

[03:19] - Tom D. explains the way that they created their successful interview process was through trial and error.

[04:27] - We hear more about the specific numbers of the interview process, including how many of the applicants came from various sources (and how many of those applicants actually showed up).

[08:32] - Rising Tide also worked with a variety of community partners for recruitment.

[10:19] - Tom S. talks about the results of the interview process. They had a very high success rate for the candidates that came from their community partner recruiting sources.

[12:13] - Those numbers say a lot of interesting things, Tom D. points out. He then explains how they handle the people who show up and apply for jobs but don’t have autism, and discusses whether not hiring people without autism opens up the company to lawsuits.

[13:47] - Of the four individuals who failed, two were physically unable to do the job. The other two were cognitively unable to do the job by not being able to follow directions or stay on task.

[14:33] - Tom S. talks about the logistics of running this large interview process on site while keeping the business operational and still washing cars.

[17:07] - We hear more specifics about how the scoring system works during the interview process.

[18:35] - Visitors from two universities came to the hiring event to study who was (and wasn’t) successful, and what the outcomes will be over the next five years. Keep tuning in to future episodes for updates on this research!

[19:54] - Tom D. digs into what he feels are the key takeaways from this interview process. He also takes a moment to rave about how many people they were able to take to the next step of the process.

[23:03] - What has been the biggest difference between going through the hiring process the first time, about four years ago, and doing it this time?

[25:40] - The most challenging part of the interview process for Tom D. was telling the four unsuccessful candidates that it wasn’t going to work.

[27:37] - Tom S. briefly touches on the next steps for the people who made it through the interview process.

Links and Resources:

Tom D’Eri

Tom Sena

Rising Tide Car Wash

Rising Tide U

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

Acuity Scheduling

Atlantis Academy

New Directions for Autism

Introduction to the ADA

UNC-Chapel Hill

The University of California, San Francisco

Jan 20 2018

28mins

Play

Doubling in Size – The Pre-Recruiting Plan

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Welcome to season 2 of the Autism Advantage podcast! I’m your host, Tom D’Eri, and my co-host for this season is Tom Sena. In case you aren’t familiar with what we do, let me take a moment to catch you up! We run Rising Tide Car Wash, which employs several dozen fantastic people with autism. This isn’t a charity, though; we encourage independence and growth by expecting everyone who applies to be able to pull their weight, and we’ve seen great success already.

In fact, things are going so well that we’re working on opening a second location! In this season, we’re going to be doing things a little bit differently than last season. As we work on opening this new location, we’re going to chronicle the process for you in a StartUp-esque way. In other words, we want to bring you along on the journey all the way from the beginning of the recruiting process all the way through our much-anticipated launch.

We’ve been working on this second location for a couple of years now, and we’re finally ready to start the interview process. This will take place next week, when we plan on hosting around a hundred candidates at the current location. Once we select the people who will move forward in the process, we’ll work on training them. When we open the second location, we’ll staff it with a combination of these new employees and our existing, more experienced staff members.

Because we have so little turnover (less than 20% annually), we rarely have the opportunity to bring many new people on board. This makes us especially excited about the second location, which will allow us to deeply grow our community and get lots of new folks involved.

Listen to this episode to hear the details on all this and much more! And once you’ve heard this episode, be sure to tune in next week. We’re excited to share with you how the big interview process goes, and we’ll also take some time to talk about what the next steps are.

In This Episode:

[00:54] - Tom Sena takes a moment to explain what Rising Tide Car Wash is going to do next week, which is one of the largest-ever mass recruiting initiatives for people with autism ever.

[01:28] - Tom D’Eri talks about the overarching strategy in terms of getting the teams ready for the new location. Tom S. then points out that they’ve had the opportunity to push their current staff forward into stronger roles.

[03:36] - An important point is that the first location started about 4 years ago as a brand new thing. Tom D. talks about that experience, as well as the company’s expectations for employees.

[05:54] - We hear more about the company’s standards-based training and how Rising Tide Car Wash evaluates potential employees.

[08:23] - The company is looking to bring around a hundred candidates in for interviews next weekend. We learn more about how the hosts anticipate this process will go, and where they came up with the numbers of interviewees and employees they expect at each step.

[10:43] - We learn that Tom S. has been deeply involved throughout the whole recruiting process. He discusses how things have progressed so far, and how he encouraged more people to get involved.

[13:58] - It’s both a blessing and a curse, Tom D. points out, that they have very little turnover.

[16:02] - Tom D. talks about the community partners he has previously mentioned. He points out that the local school district is a great resource in terms of recruiting.

[18:23] - We hear about the great community that Rising Tide Car Wash is part of (and has helped to create). We also learn that two universities are involved in doing a study about the company.

[20:39] - Tom and Tom talk a bit more about the growth of the team and the anticipated impact of getting so many new people in the door, as well as what they’re excited to see during this process.

[22:53] - The best thing about the job is seeing the growth of people over time, Tom D. says.

[24:56] - We learn why it’s so important to structure the interview process in a concrete way that involves doing specific tasks within the work environment rather than using standard conversational interview methods.

[26:32] - Tom D. offers the example of a specific employee, Matt, who had hundreds of interviews but was never hired simply because the interview process didn’t play to his strengths. At Rising Tide Car Wash, he’s one of the best employees.

[28:10] - What are some of the potential pitfalls that might come up, such as distraction issues?

Links and Resources:

Tom D’Eri

Tom Sena

Rising Tide Car Wash

Rising Tide U

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

StartUp

Acuity Scheduling

Jan 20 2018

32mins

Play

010 - Creating a Culture of Empowerment

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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.

I’m honored to introduce today’s guest, Randy Lewis, who is a true legend in the autism employment world. Randy is the visionary behind the Walgreens Disability Employment Program, which is one of the most well-established disability employment programs in the corporate world. He’s also the father of a young man with autism.

Unlike every previous guest on the show, Randy didn’t create a new organization to employ people with autism. Instead, he created change within an existing company. Doing so involved navigating the systems in place that weren’t designed for people with autism and other disabilities. In our conversation, he’ll explain how he did this and offer recommendations for others who might be in a similar position.

Randy points out that parents have all had the same experience of having been taught by their children. One of the things Randy’s son taught him was to confront his unknown biases and look past disabilities to see the person. He also learned how easy it is to underestimate people, which he applied to the concept of employment. This was his inspiration to hire people with autism at Walgreens.

One of the differences between managing neurotypical employees and employees with autism is that in the latter case, managers need to actually manage. This means that managers need to treat everyone as individuals, understand them, and figure out what motivates them. This practice ends up making these managers stronger in managing typically abled employees as well. Randy digs into this in depth, and we talk about how many ways it benefits managers to have employees with autism.

In our conversation today, we’ll also cover lots of other topics including what talent is (hint: it’s not just about going to an Ivy League school and landing a high-powered job), what advantages Randy has seen from hiring people with autism, and how things have progressed for his son, for whom Walgreens wasn’t the perfect fit. Tune in to hear all this and much more!

In This Episode:

[01:35] - Randy talks about his inspiration for trying to hire people with autism at Walgreens.

[03:57] - At Walgreens, there were established processes in hiring new employees. Randy knew that hiring people with autism would involve changing those processes, and reveals the secret magic word that makes people get past their block of resisting change.

[06:03] - Tom reiterates what Randy has been saying: instead of challenging the establishment, you create a side door.

[06:26] - What was the reaction of the typical employees who were working at the pilot site? After the first reaction of fear, there was complete acceptance, Randy explains.

[08:20] - Randy points out that working with people with autism requires that managers manage. This ends up making them better managers all around.

[09:51] - Tom has found something similar at his car wash, where it’s clear that the need to treating all of your employees as individuals creates managers who are better listeners and clear communicators.

[11:22] - Randy talks about a study that explored the culture at Walgreens, and mentions his website, which you can find at this link!

[12:34] - Many of the people who are affected by autism hold a huge variety of roles, Tom points out, explaining that one of the beautiful things about autism is that it’s completely indiscriminate in terms of who it affects.

[13:36] - What would Randy say to someone at a relatively high position in an existing company who is interested in hiring people with autism?

[15:17] - Tom digs into the topic of what, exactly, talent is.

[17:14] - We hear about what business Randy has seen by employing people with autism at Walgreens.

[19:00] - Randy addresses the topic of the impact he has been describing on his son specifically, and explains that his son worked at Walgreens for several years.

[20:52] - Has Randy seen any changes in his son? In his answer, he shares an entertaining way that his son has been making money.

[23:14] - Randy discusses whether Meijer has other employees with disabilities, and whether his son has made any relationships with the people he’s working with.

[25:06] - Randy talks about his vision for the future and what his plan is now that he has moved on from Walgreens.

[27:53] - How can listeners get involved with Randy’s organization, or find out more about his speaking engagements or workshops?

Links and Resources:

NOGWOG (Randy Lewis’ website)

Randy Lewis on LinkedIn

No Greatness Without Goodness by Randy Lewis

Tom D’Eri

Rising Tide Car Wash

Rising Tide U

Autism Advantage

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

Dec 31 2016

29mins

Play

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

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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.

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

Dec 30 2016

23mins

Play

008 - The Business Advantages of Autism Employment

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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.

Today I’m joined by the remarkable Bill Morris. Bill founded Blue Star Recyclers, which employs people with autism and was named Colorado’s 2016 Social Venture of the Year.

After he was laid off from his job when he was in his 50s, Bill began working at a disability services center with no relevant experience other than having a developmentally disabled older brother. There, he encountered four young men with incredible innate skill for electronics. Each of them turned out to have autism.

Seeing the potential, Bill wrote a business plan for an electronics recycling organization (something else he had no prior experience in) to create an employment opportunity for these men and put their talents to use. When Bill brought his now-employees from their dayhab setting into an employment setting, he saw remarkable changes in them. Two non-verbal men, for example, became verbal in the workplace setting.

After beginning as a for-profit company, Blue Star Recyclers became a nonprofit to be able to fund the gap between earned income and expenses. Now, they’ve almost completely closed that gap. Once they do, they’ll use grants to buy equipment and grow. The current goal is to become fully self-sustaining, then to be profitable for a year, and then to give the company back to the employees and become 100% employee-owned. In this conversation, you’ll learn about the company’s transition into a nonprofit, and what the benefits have been.

In the past, Bill has tried to start businesses with other motives, such as making money. In those cases, he ran into lots of obstacles. When he opened this one, though, everything seemed to come together in remarkable ways. “It’s the universe’s way of giving you the nod of approval,” he explains.

For example, trying to buy a truck led to finding investors who did an incredible amount to turn the company from a vision into a reality. Bill’s story will inspire you to believe in the good in people, and motivate you to get out there and find your own kind-hearted investors who believe in your social enterprise.

In This Episode:

[01:03] - Why did Bill start Blue Star Recyclers, and what has the journey been like so far?

[03:39] - Bill talks more about learning the recycling industry, which he was completely unfamiliar with before he started researching it to create his company.

[05:12] - Tom points out the importance of being honest about the things you don’t know, which is similar to what Bill has been talking about.

[05:52] - How did Bill find people who helped fill his knowledge gaps, and build his team? In his answer, Bill reveals how much of an impact his quest to find a truck had on the business.

[07:40] - We hear about a couple of the people who Bill has hired so far.

[09:36] - The motive for both Blue Star Recyclers and Rising Tide Car Wash was to do good and put people to work, not to make heaps of money, Bill points out.

[11:22] - Bill talks more about the mentors who helped him figure out how to build the business from a technical perspective.

[13:21] - We learn about the process of going from for-profit to non-profit, and what Bill’s plan is for the future of the organization.

[16:11] - Tom draws out some of the statistics and business advantages that Bill had mentioned related to employing individuals with disabilities. Bill then talks about how he takes advantage of those benefits, as well as how remarkable the impact of the work has been for several of his employees.

[19:45] - Bill has learned that people on the spectrum are inherently safe employees because they don’t deviate from the procedure that you give them.

[20:22] - Bill thinks that he and Tom may end up saving their respective industries, and explains why.

[21:53] - Other employers who employ the entry-level workforce have problems that Bill doesn’t experience at all with his employees.

[24:35] - Tom points out that you need to be able to take the long view if you’re planning to stay in business for a long time.

[25:20] - What advice would Tom give to people who are looking to start social enterprises and hire individuals with autism?

[27:47] - Tom lists some ways for listeners to find his company and help them out.

Links and Resources:

Bill Morris on LinkedIn

Blue Star Recyclers

Blue Star Recyclers on Facebook

Tom D’Eri

Rising Tide Car Wash

Rising Tide U

Autism Advantage

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

Dec 23 2016

29mins

Play

007 - Setting Up Shop & Crowdfunding

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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.

Tiffany Fixter is the founder of Brewability Lab. At the time we recorded this conversation, it was still in the preparation phases and wasn’t yet up and running thanks to bureaucratic and governmental red tape. Now, though, I’m thrilled to say that Brewability Lab is fully operational and you can visit them (and enjoy some great beers) in Denver, Colorado!

A special education teacher by trade, Tiffany has an incredible entrepreneurial spirit. She moved to Denver for a job opportunity to run a nonprofit day program with about 135 adults with developmental disabilities, about a third of whom had autism. Tiffany was surprised and disappointed to find that only one or two of these people had jobs, so she decided to do something about it!

Opening a brewery started as a playful joke, but ended up being a seriously good idea. Many aspects of running a brewery are ideal for those with autism and developmental disabilities, as you’ll hear in our conversation. Tiffany will also talk about how she raised the funds to start the business largely through crowdfunding campaigns, which definitely had lots of cons to go along with the pros.

After the successful crowdfunding efforts, Tiffany and her dad were lucky enough to find a rare opportunity: a turnkey brewery. She put the Kickstarter money down as a deposit with just ten minutes to spare. Despite this stroke of luck, her #1 recommendation is to borrow double the money that you think you’ll need for your social enterprise, because it always costs more than you expect.

Listen to the episode to hear more of Tiffany’s thoughts on crowdfunding, her advice for entrepreneurs considering getting into a social venture, how much work it takes to get started (and the reason she’s been cleaning toilets all summer instead of teaching), and why it’s so important to have people around to help even when you’re trying to do everything yourself.

In This Episode:

[00:56] - What was Tiffany’s inspiration for starting Brewability Lab?

[02:34] - Tiffany talks more about the details of how Brewability Lab will operate once it opens, and discusses why the brewery is ideal for people with autism and other developmental disabilities.

[03:50] - Right now, they only have a few employees in training for when the brewery opens. They don’t want to hire too many people before they’re closer to opening, which is slowed down by governmental red tape.

[05:12] - Tiffany acknowledges that there’s frustration with them for not being open yet, and goes into more detail about the amazing amounts of time, money, and patience it takes to open a brewery.

[07:08] - Starting any business is tough, Tom agrees, and points out that it’s even harder for a retail setting with a lot of regulatory issues.

[08:58] - We hear more about Tiffany’s campaigns on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, as well as their fundraising events. She discusses some of the pros and cons of crowdfunding this way.

[12:58] - Tiffany wasn’t working during the time of the crowdfunding projects, and needed to treat them as a more-than-full-time job.

[14:02] - The woman who gave Tiffany the final $3,000 donation to meet the goal came through the Rocky Mountain Down Syndrome Association.

[14:32] - One of the greatest strengths of crowdfunding, Tom points out, is that you get to see whether people really want something.

[15:13] - We hear more about what Tiffany learned through the course of the process of crowdfunding and opening Brewability Lab.

[17:25] - Tom explains that when they were starting Rising Tide Car Wash, they realized that the business had an impact not only in employing individuals, but also in communicating the message of how capable people with autism and other disabilities are.

[18:30] - Now that Tiffany has done the crowdfunding process, would she recommend it to others as a fundraising method?

[20:25] - The entrepreneurial journey is not an easy road, Tom explains. He and Tiffany then talk about the costs of a crowdfunding campaign, which often costs around $10,000 to do well.

[22:46] - What are the most important things that Tiffany has learned about starting a social enterprise?

[25:35] - Tiffany lists some ways that people can help her with the brewery, whether that’s through advice, money, or help with electrical issues!

[27:17] - Tiffany has gotten some pretty nasty emails from people who don’t like her concept, including one from someone she used to work for who accused her of taking advantage of people with disabilities. Tom responds with advice to listen to these people, but not remember what they say.

Links and Resources:

Brewability Lab

Tiffany Fixter on LinkedIn

Brewability Lab on Kickstarter

Brewability Lab on Indiegogo

Fiverr

Rocky Mountain Down Syndrome Association

Tom D’Eri

Rising Tide Car Wash

Rising Tide U

Autism Advantage

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

Dec 16 2016

29mins

Play

006 - How to Create Autism Jobs While Keeping Your Own

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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.

My fantastic guest today is James Emmett, who is one of the world’s leading disability employment consultants. James is and has been the driving force behind many large corporate programs for people with autism and other disabilities at major companies such as TIAA-CREF, Best Buy, Walgreens, Pepsi, and Office Depot. He was also instrumental in helping us at Rising Tide Car Wash get off the ground.

In 2004, James met Randy Lewis, the senior vice president at Walgreens. Randy invited James the opportunity to help plan out the Walgreen outreach initiative that focused on people with autism. This experience helped James realize how much potential there was within corporate situations for people with autism. Since having learned about this incredible potential, he has taken that awareness to other companies and created opportunities there.

There are so many benefits for a company when it comes to hiring people with autism. James has seen an increase in morale among the incoming employees with autism, but also the current employees at a company that launches an autism-related initiative. Companies also experience their cultures changing to be positive and forward-thinking. These are just a few of the many great benefits that James describes.

I’m excited to have James on the show because he offers such a different perspective than many of our previous guests. Instead of having opened a new business geared toward employing people with autism, James’ extensive experience is with working within existing organizations to create employment opportunities for individuals with autism.

Don’t miss this great episode, in which we also talk about some of the specific advantages of employing people with autism, why hiring these people can help create systems that turn out to be better than the existing ones for neurotypical employees, how important it is to have community support, and much more.

In This Episode:

[01:37] - What inspired James to work with large companies and help them harness the advantages of employing people with autism and other disabilities?

[03:18] - James describes what it’s like to work with these companies and create programs for employing people with autism.

[04:44] - We hear about the realizations that people come to in terms of the specific advantages of employing people with autism.

[06:53] - Tom draws out something unique about what James have said: that individuals with autism and other disabilities have faced barriers their whole lives, and have needed to learn to break through them. They bring this grit and resilience to their employers.

[07:23] - James talks more about how this familiarity with breaking through obstacles translates to the work environment. Tom then relates what James has said to the way that they hire people at Rising Tide Car Wash.

[10:28] - When James is talking to a new client, how does he communicate the specific benefits that he and Tom have been discussing?

[13:18] - James talks about how translating what happens at a few sites to the broader organization works.

[15:19] - Tom digs into how the ripple effect from making changes at one distribution center can change things for many more people.

[16:24] - We hear more about how James has convinced people that this will positively affect the daily operations of a business.

[19:38] - How would James recommend that someone who works at an organization that doesn’t currently have a disability employment program go about starting something and creating change at their company?

[21:42] - Tom elaborates on the advice James has been giving about getting support from the community.

[22:43] - James hopes that within the next ten years is that every Fortune 500 company will have a disability inclusion strategy.

[25:24] - How can listeners get in touch with James or hire him as a consultant to help them navigate their disability employment strategy?

Links and Resources:

JEC

James Emmett & Co

James Emmett on LinkedIn

@JamesEmmett on Twitter

ADVICE

Randy Lewis

Disability inclusion at Walgreens

TIAA-CREF

Best Buy

Walgreens

Pepsi

Office Depot

Tom D’Eri

Rising Tide Car Wash

Rising Tide U

Autism Advantage

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

FAU Center for Autism & Related Disabilities

Broward County Public Schools

The Dan Marino Foundation

Autism Speaks

New York Collaborates for Autism

The Poses Family Foundation

Dec 12 2016

27mins

Play

005 - The Reality of Starting a Business

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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.

Valerie Herskowitz is one of my fellow South Florida autism entrepreneurs and the founder of The Chocolate Spectrum Cafe and Academy. So far, the cafe only employs adults with autism or developmental disabilities, and Val has been learning to do just about every aspect of running the business herself. While this is complicated in the early stages, it’s a strength in that she’ll be intimately familiar with every facet of the business.

Val had been involved in pastry and chocolates as a hobby, never thinking she would turn it into anything more. After semi-retiring, though, she had the time to expand this sweet hobby into a full business. Coincidentally, this timing worked out just as she was looking into post-high-school resources for her son Blake, who has autism.

After Blake graduated from high school, he got more and more involved in the kitchen. Val realized that a hobby of making chocolates wasn’t going to be enough to keep Blake busy, so after getting some great reviews from friends and family, they expanded into an online venture and started selling locally. The business grew organically, until Val saw it as an employment opportunity for individuals with autism and other differently-abled employees. Now, they’ve opened a brick-and-mortar cafe.

In this conversation that took place just two months after the cafe opened, Val and I talk about her experience with turning a hobby into a full-time business and social enterprise. The best and biggest piece of advice she can give to listeners considering opening a retail location is to expect the unexpected, but she has many, many other gems of wisdom that anyone working with people with autism or considering opening a business will benefit from hearing.

Tune into this episode to hear about topics including how Blake and other employees have reacted to the opening of the retail location, her advice to people who are considering opening a business staffed by people with autism, what financial considerations you should have in mind when opening a business, and why the food business is one of the hardest areas to be in.

In This Episode:

[00:58] - Val takes us back to the beginning of her entrepreneurial journey, and explains why she started The Chocolate Spectrum. She walks us through the process all the way from the beginning ideas through the opening of their retail location.

[05:09] - We hear more about the moment when Val realized that this could be a full-time business, not just a hobby anymore.

[07:12] - Tom draws out an important point that Val has made regarding the responsibility business owners have to their employees.

[08:40] - The brick-and-mortar location has only been open for two months, and Val’s biggest piece of advice so far is to expect the unexpected.

[11:24] - Val explains that even her little shop seems overwhelming, but expects it to become easier as it becomes more familiar.

[14:07] - How have Blake and the rest of the team responded to the opening of the new location? Val describes how Blake has reacted, and the sorts of things that she has needed to teach and work on with the other employees.

[17:33] - Tom talks about the scripting and training for people with autism for interacting with the public, which is part of Rising Tide Car Wash as well.

[19:01] - Val takes a moment to rave about their local community in Florida, which is relatively autism-aware. She then mentions things she adds to the script, such as recommendations to visit the dry cleaners next door who consistently promote the cafe.

[22:33] - What advice would Val give someone who’s looking to start a business and employ people with autism?

[23:58] - When Tom gives workshops and reaches the part about funding, he needs to point out that there really aren’t very many grants out there for this subject and that grants probably won’t be your primary source of funding.

[25:10] - Val didn’t decide to start an autism-focused business and then settle on one that fits that criterion well. Instead, she opened a business in something she was already doing. In hindsight, she might have done things differently.

[28:02] - Tom points out that every social enterprise has its own path.

[30:20] - Val passes along one other piece of advice that she has found invaluable, which is to find people who know what to do who are willing to help you.

[32:04] - How can listeners get involved with The Chocolate Spectrum? She recommends visiting the cafe, but if you don’t live locally, you can shop online too!

Links and Resources:

The Chocolate Spectrum Cafe and Academy

The Chocolate Spectrum: shop online

Valerie Herksowitz

Valerie Herksowitz 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

Dec 02 2016

34mins

Play

004 - The Poppin Joe’s Story: Building a Business on a Shoestring Budget

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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.

Ray Steffey, along with his son Joe, founded Poppin’ Joe’s Gourmet Kettle Korn. We’ve had the opportunity to share Ray’s story quite a bit in our Awakening the Autism Entrepreneur workshops, and the reason behind the company really resonates with the people who have come. As you’ll hear in this episode, the company’s story begins when Joe was in high school. Ray was told that Joe has no attention span, can’t say on task, would probably never hold a job, and would likely live in a group home for his whole life. 

When he heard this in April of 2000, Ray knew that he had to prove these predictions wrong. On a cruise to Alaska, he saw a booth with a constant line, and discovered it was selling kettle corn. He watched the process of making and selling the corn, and realized that the multiple tasks involved might be perfect for Joe. They bought used equipment, and on October 1, 2000 -- less than half a year after that fateful conversation at Joe’s school -- they had their first event. 

They sold several hundred dollars’ of kettle corn that first weekend, and have been developing their business ever since. Joe became the owner of the kettle corn business in April 2005. Since then, the business has grown so much that he’s selling over $70,000 in popcorn every year.

In terms of daily functionality, Joe doesn’t like to repeat one task over and over. The other workers in the business know that Joe is the owner, so when he approaches the station where they’re working (such as the bagging station), their job is to go to the station he just came from (such as the mixing station).

You’ll also learn in this episode how Joe is able to handle being at large venues with tens of thousands of people even though he doesn’t like being around more than a handful of people at a time, how the business is staying in the family across several generations, Ray’s advice to people who are considering starting a business, and much more!

In This Episode:

[00:58] - Ray talks about why he started Poppin’ Joe’s, sharing the story of the moment he knew that he had to prove people wrong and ensure Joe would have a productive, fulfilling life.

[03:27] - We learn that diving into the business was fairly straightforward because the people who sold Ray the equipment already had dates for sales lined up, so they just had to call the venues and finish getting everything lined up.

[04:46] - Ray talks about where the funding for Poppin’ Joe’s came from, and how successful the business is today.

[06:32] - Going into the process, did Ray think the business would definitely succeed? Did he know that Joe would gravitate toward the work? As Ray answers, he shares some information on the practical details of how the business runs.

[07:48] - Joe doesn’t like to be around a lot of people, and tends to disappear at family gatherings, for example. Ray talks about how this has played out when the business has been at a festival with thousands of people.

[09:26] - Tom points out that Ray couldn’t have known for long that this was going to be the path for Joe, since he only discovered kettle corn during that trip to Alaska. At what point did Ray figure out that this was what they would do for Joe?

[11:30] - We learn about how Ray helps Joe make the connection between the work he does and the positive things he gets to do with the money he earns.

[12:17] - Joe is 30, and his parents are in their 70s. They put the word out that they’re looking for a co-owner for the business to ensure it moves forward once Ray and his wife aren’t able to be as actively involved, and now their oldest grandson has indicated interest.

[13:50] - Tom shares his perspective on involving multiple generations in an autism-involved business, and making it endure.

[13:38] - What would be Ray’s advice for people who are looking to start a business?

[16:38] - Tom points out that what Ray is describing is a full and fulfilling life, and the ideal small business entrepreneur’s lifestyle.

[17:50] - We hear Tom’s thoughts on Ray’s point about feeling like ordinary folks who decided to do something and ended up going on a great journey.

[19:37] - How would Ray advise somebody who wants to figure out what their son or daughter with autism is interested in, with the goal of starting a business around it?

[21:59] - Ray lists some ways that listeners can get involved with the business (other than buying their kettle corn!).

Links and Resources:

Poppin’ Joe’s Gourmet Kettle Korn

Poppin Joe’s Kettle Corn on Facebook

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Awakening the Autism Entrepreneur

Tom D’Eri

Rising Tide Car Wash

Rising Tide U

Autism Advantage

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

Nov 25 2016

23mins

Play

003 - Starting Small: What to Do If You’re Not an Entrepreneur

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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.

Wendy Kohman is one of our favorite Awakening the Autism Entrepreneur workshop participants! We did a series of ten workshops across the country in partnership with the University of Miami to inspire people to start businesses supporting people with autism. Wendy had already founded the incredible Katie’s Snack Cart, but participated in the workshops anyway, and we were delighted to have her there!

When Wendy’s daughter, Katie, was in middle school, they began the transition process with Katie’s school. They evaluated what Katie liked and was good at, and what she could offer in the working world. Using her strengths and interests, they figured out that giving her a good and meaningful life after high school would likely involve food, being on the move, and interacting with people. After a lot of thought, strategizing, and creativity, they came up with the idea of a food cart selling great alternatives to vending machine junk. 

They started things off by borrowing a cart from Katie’s school, buying some healthy snacks, making banana bread, and going to the two places that they knew would be safe to try out the concept: their church office, and Wendy’s husband’s office. They found that people enjoyed the idea (and their food!). From there, they’ve had the luxury of being able to expand at their own pace while learning what works and what doesn’t. 

In addition to going into more depth about all this, Wendy talks about some of the things they’ve learned throughout the process so far, what their goals are for Katie’s Snack Cart, how Katie has done with the process and business, how customers have responded to the venture, and much more!

In This Episode:

[01:25] - Wendy starts things off by telling the story behind Katie’s Snack Cart, and explaining how they settled on the idea of starting a food cart.

[03:35] - Tom draws out some of the interesting things that Wendy explained during her story about starting the food cart.

[04:01] - How has the experience been so far? In her answer, Wendy explores how they started testing the idea in a limited environment to assess whether it might work.

[05:49] - Wendy talks about some of the most important things they’ve learned so far in the process of running Katie’s Snack Cart. She points out that because this is not their main livelihood, they have the luxury of being able to go slowly.

[07:56] - Tom points out how well Wendy has done the prototyping process, and why it was so important. He points out that the path leads from unconscious incompetence, to conscious incompetence, to conscous competence, to unconscious competence.

[09:22] - How has the business gone so far? In her answer, Wendy talks about their growth so far and their anticipated growth in the future.

[10:59] - The immediate goal for Katie’s Snack Cart has always been to give Katie a meaningful life. Wendy expands on this, and their secondary goals. Tom then points out that this is a legitimate business filling a real market need that they’re weaving Katie’s strengths into.

[13:16] - We hear what Wendy has learned about what people want and need from this business.

[15:16] - Before starting the business, Wendy went on an assumption that people wanted things other than typical vending machine fare. Beyond that, she has learned everything since doing it, and points out that you can’t just go on assumptions.

[16:01] - Wendy talks about how Katie has done with this whole process, and how her cart helps her handle new environments.

[18:09] - Tom points out that they were nervous about how employees would respond to the chaos of a car wash, but they too found that the employees were successful once they had familiarity with the process of what they’re supposed to do.

[18:58] - Wendy has hired two other young adults (one with autism, and one without) as bakers.

[20:31] - Every single comment that Wendy has received from customers who already know them has been very, very positive. People at locations where people didn’t already know them were a bit standoffish at the beginning, but have now warmed up and enjoy Katie’s presence and business.

[22:31] - How can listeners get involved with Katie’s Snack Cart?

Links and Resources:

Katie’s Snack Cart

Katie’s Snack Cart on Facebook

@KatiesSnackCart on Twitter

katiessnackcart@gmail.com

Wendy Kohman on LinkedIn

Wendy Kohman on Instagram

Awakening the Autism Entrepreneur

Tom D’Eri

Rising Tide Car Wash

Rising Tide U

Autism Advantage

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

Nov 18 2016

24mins

Play

002 - How a Mom Turned Biscotti into a Business that Employs Her Son with Autism

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Denise Resnik has had a truly remarkable entrepreneurial background and has been in business as a marketing communications consultant for 30 years. Her projects include the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center (SARRC), First Place AZ, DRA Collective, and, most importantly for today’s conversation, the remarkable SMILE Biscotti.

Denise is also the proud mother of a young man with autism, Matt, who was diagnosed at age 2. She was told to love, accept, and eventually institutionalize her son, which she found unacceptable. Instead of following that path, Denise used Matt as her source of inspiration, and together they created SMILE Biscotti. Ever since, they’ve been working to find a better way for Matt and others like him.

Originally, SMILE stood for “Supporting Matt’s Independent Living Enterprise.” As the company grew, though, it evolved; the name now stands for “Supporting My Independent Living Enterprise.” The company’s true goal and mission is to help other families build employment opportunities and a sense of community for those with autism.

The company’s very first order was for 1,500 biscotti for a special event in late 2013. Now, it’s extremely successful. SMILE has sold over 160,000 biscotti, and the product is a top seller at a local branch of a major coffee chain.  

In our conversation today, Denise emphasizes the fact that the work isn’t just about making, packaging, and selling biscotti, but also about truly creating a community. The employees experience this community when they shop for ingredients from people who know about the company, when they make deliveries to devoted repeat customers, and even when they go to the bank. Tune in to learn about all of this and much more, and maybe to get the inspiration and knowledge you need to take the next steps with your own autism-supporting venture!

In This Episode:

[01:27] - What inspired Denise to start on this journey, and what continues to motivate her?

[02:02] - We learn more about why Denise and her husband, Rob, founded SMILE Biscotti and how their goals have evolved.

[03:39] - SMILE Biscotti started with Denise’s grandmother’s recipe. They experimented with it and found that they were able to create a twice-baked product with a long shelf life.

[04:56] - Tom steps in to clarify for listeners that Denise essentially took an existing skill and pre-sold it, rather than raising capital first. Denise then brings up a few other points, and emphasizes that it has been a feel-good business rather than a feel-sorry-for message.

[06:42] - What did Denise learn from the feedback from early taste testers of the product? This process, she explains, is how they settled on their four flavors: Cinnamon Vanilla, Mocha Magic, Double Chocolate Chip, and Butterscotch Bliss.

[07:37] - Denise raves about how great it’s been to start a family business with children, parents, aunts, and uncles all involved in different ways.

[09:44] - There’s a misconception that entrepreneurship is about you against the world, and a sense of rugged individualism. Tom points out that this is completely wrong, and it’s all about mentors and community.

[11:18] - Denise expands on Tom’s point about supporting each other, discussing how Matt and his coworkers support each other and create efficiency.

[12:52] - How has building this business affected Matt? Denise lists some of the incredible benefits that Matt has seen from the project.

[14:28] - Matt and Denise have been baking together for most of his life, so he already had a lot of experience before the business opened.

[15:54] - Denise discusses how the project has impacted her perception of how capable people with autism are. She also explains how successful their biscotti has been locally, and touches on the role of autism in their marketing and messaging.

[18:19] - Denise goes into more depth about the way that the packaging talks about autism.

[19:37] - What does Denise feel the business implications are that she’s learned from building SMILE?

[20:42] - Tom points out that the messaging is able to talk about how the person is able to realize their own goals, and SMILE is helping them get there. He then points out that at Rising Tide Car Wash, they have the huge advantage of not needing to pay for advertising.

[22:58] - Denise has been seeing that advantage as well, and mentions the loyalty that they see from their repeat customers.

[24:33] - What’s Denise’s vision for the future of SMILE? In her answer, she talks about her perspective on growing the company.

[26:15] - The best way for listeners to get involved with SMILE is to reach out to them through their website. (Another option, of course, is to support the company by buying some of their delicious biscotti!)

Links and Resources:

Denise Resnik on LinkedIn

Denise Resnik on Facebook

@ResnikDenise on Twitter

Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center (SARRC)

First Place AZ

DRA Collective

SMILE Biscotti

Tom D’Eri

Rising Tide Car Wash

Rising Tide U

Autism Advantage

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

Nov 18 2016

27mins

Play

001 - The Autism Advantage: Lessons from Building a Successful Autism Enterprise

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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. 

Today, I’ll be joined by two great guests. John D’Eri is a serial entrepreneur who has built various businesses across completely different industries. He’s the CEO and co-founder of Rising Tide Car Wash. (He’s also my father!) Dr. Michael Alessandri is the executive director of University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism & Related Disabilities, a professor at UN for over 20 decades, and one of the most dedicated people we’ve ever met within the autism community. 

This podcast is part of a three-year partnership between our team and the aforementioned Center for Autism. We’ve heard many questions about starting businesses employing people with autism, and know that many of you want both actionable steps on how to do so as well as reassurance that it’s possible. We’re here to provide both! 

John D’Eri started Rising Tide Car Wash because his son (and my brother), Andrew, is on the autism spectrum. John realized that Andrew had no clear path for a purposeful life with employment opportunities. To help his son, he put his entrepreneurial skills to use. Together, John and I created something scalable and sustainable that would employ not only Andrew, but others who have autism.

Tune into this episode to learn why a car wash specifically is excellent for forming social and emotional connections among people with autism, how important it is to put the business rather than the social enterprise first in some regards, and why only about half of our customers even know that most of our employees have autism.

In This Episode:

[02:37] - John starts off the conversation by explaining why he started Rising Tide Car Wash. The mission was to hire 85% of their staff with autism, create a community, and change people’s perception of autism.

[06:53] - Michael talks about his experience in working with people with autism, and why he’s focusing on employment opportunities now. He shares the story of meeting a young boy named Marlin, and being fascinated by the contrast between the things Marlin could do and the things people were saying he couldn’t do.

[09:24] - It occurred to Michael that there was virtually nothing for people with autism after they exited school.

[11:08] - Work defines a lot of who people are, and for many of the employees at Rising Tide Car Wash, there was some sort of gap or uncertainty before they began working there.

[12:33] - John discusses what his hopes were for his son, Andrew, in terms of Rising Tide Car Wash. As a result of the company, Andrew now has friends, a feeling of accomplishment, the pride of making money, and all the other positives associated with having work.

[17:39] - Michael points out that when you look beyond the autism community, it’s clear that employment forms the foundation of an individual’s social fabric. He also talks about a common misconception about people with autism.

[19:21] - Michael talks about something else he’s been thinking a lot about lately, which is the importance of finding a balance between inclusion in a wider community and supporting people with autism in spending time with other people with the same condition.

[20:44] - We hear John’s thoughts on the way that skillsets translate from work into society. He then points out that at Rising Tide Car Wash, everybody does all of the jobs.

[24:31] - Michael jumps in to discuss the mechanics of a car wash, and the fact that it’s fundamentally structured in such a way that each person has some responsibility for the overall success of the product and result.

[25:20] - When they were starting out with Rising Tide Car Wash, Tom explains, they didn’t understand the gravity of what they were doing.

[27:25] - It’s business first, and you have to couple the social enterprise into it, John points out. You need to consistently produce value and quality.

[30:34] - Michael backtracks a little bit to talk about the issue of trying to build businesses around an individual’s unique restricted interests.

[32:45] - We hear more about the core abilities of many of the people with autism who Michael has worked with.

[35:46] - John talks about how the core abilities that Michael has mentioned are an advantage at Rising Tide Car Wash, and describes some of the steps involved in their process.

[39:50] - The 46 steps of their car-cleaning process create a consistent, quality product that the customer can rely on, John points out.

[43:26] - John’s point is this: by relying on a specific structure and maintaining it regardless of what’s going on, they deliver a product that is quality-driven, value-oriented, and superior every single time.

[44:08] - Only about half of the people who go through the car wash even know that the employees there have autism.

[45:56] - We learn what attracted Michael to the work that John and Tom have been doing at Rising Tide Car Wash.

[48:20] - John steps in to say a couple things to listeners. He emphasizes the point that he opened the car wash to play to his strengths, and other parents of people with autism should play to their own strengths.

[50:15] - Michael adds in a last point of his own by discussing how invested Tom and John are in expanding their mission.

[51:35] - If you have any questions, feel free to ask through the Autism Advantage website!

Links and Resources:

Tom D’Eri

John D’Eri

Dr. Michael Alessandri

Rising Tide Car Wash

Rising Tide U

Autism Advantage

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

CARD

Aug 12 2016

53mins

Play