StepUp Ireland are empowering people with disabilties to become entrepreneurs

What area of Diversity and Inclusion does Step Up Ireland advocate for?

The main area we advocate for is persons with disabilities. We want to change the area of business and entrepreneurship to include persons with disabilities. At the moment the space lacks real inclusion and diversity and we feel this needs to change. There is a focus on employment at the moment. But what about self-employment. Why not go that one step further in supporting people to be completely autonomous?

What’s your background and how did you get to founding the company?

My background is working in the social care sector. I have been working with adults with disabilities for over five years and previously was working in counselling and support services. What inspired me to start Step Up is simply seeing inequality and needing to call it out. I was working with an individual with a disability and he wanted to start a business and when I saw the barriers he faced in just exploring his idea, it shocked me. I knew I had to do something about it. And so the idea for Step Up was borne.

What obstacles do people with disabilities face when they open their own business.

There are so many obstacles that people face. The main issue is the lack of financial support for persons with disabilities, the welfare trap, the lack of accessible educational supports, the lack of accessible transport/infrastructure and unfortunately the list goes on. But the main issue seems to be the lack of consultation with people on the ground. Ask a people yourself. They are the best people to know what they need to be successful. We at Step Up cannot solve all the accessibility barriers, but we can try to offer some support to individuals via online business courses that are tailored to their needs. This is one step in the right direction.

Simply put if I want to start a business tomorrow I can and there are supports out there for me, but adults with disabilities face many barriers often barriers that many people would not consider. It is time that they are given business supports that are tailored to their needs. Accessibility is not just a nice word but needs to be followed through with real tailored supports based on the opinions of the individuals that need them.

What supports could the government give to encourage people with disabilities to set up their own business?

First thing they can do is offer specific grants to entrepreneurs with disabilities. Put the power in their hands. Secondly they can support social enterprises like Step Up Ireland who are leading the way in progressive thinking.  Other ideas for support are ensuring social welfare and benefits are safe if a person chooses to take the risk of starting a company. There are many more supports needed but again. Ask the people on the ground they are the experts.

Did you receive any support when you were opening the business?

We received support from Social entrepreneurs Ireland to develop our idea through their academy program 2019.  We have also received support from Dublin Southside partnership who have offered fantastic mentorship with leading experts in many different areas of business. Dublin Southside partnership helped with training and also helped us to shoot our first promo video which was a huge help. Also the fantastic team at Inner city enterprises has provided invaluable support and mentoring. And not to mention the countless individuals who gave their time to offer support to Step Up Ireland. As they say ‘It takes a village’.

I will say it has been hard to get funding and financial support for Step Up Ireland as it is so new and progressive sometimes this can seem risky. But a think a life without possibilities is a lot riskier.

Why did you decide to open the company as a Not For Profit?

There were a few reasons why we went down this route. We feel that we want our mission and the individuals at the centre of all decisions. Any profits will go back into ensuring the longevity of the company. We are definitely for making a profit but each penny will go to the running of the company and the individuals we serve.

How did the Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Ideas Academy help shape the business.

Social Entrepreneurs Ireland were a huge help. They really brought our idea from its very inception to where we are today. The academy programme had modules on many areas of business but also fostered an atmosphere of growth, development and learning. Because of this our idea has grown and developed to what it is today. A constant iteration with a core mission that will never change. How we achieve the mission may change but our why never does.

How did the pandemic affect the business?

There is no doubt it has affected everyone; Step Up Ireland had originally planned to do face to face workshops. But given the pandemic we have pivoted our business and we are now looking to do our workshops online. We have also moved all our meeting and events online. That was a challenge, but unfortunately change is inevitable in life and as horrible as Covid-19 is, we tried our best to use this time to reflect on our organisation, our mission, and our solution. So, we have found some positives amongst the very many negatives.

You’re currently in full time employment and running Step Up Ireland. How do you divide your time between the two?

That is a work in progress. Working full time as a supervisor in Social care and full-time founder/CEO has not been easy. Time, energy, and rest are very real areas I need to focus on and I found from very early on that I had to be very conscious of that. I became something that I never thought I would be, a planner. I had to plan every aspect of my life out including rest. I used different techniques like mind mapping, Eisenhower method and an old-fashioned diary. But I also learned that I needed to set goals that are achievable and that I needed some self-compassion when they were sometimes not achieved. But one thing that really helped to push Step Up Ireland forward and helped with planning is my team. I have a fantastic team working with me since early 2020. They believe in the mission and bring so many different skills sets to organisation. This has really helped to move us forward.

Are there any other companies in the area of Diversity and Inclusion in Ireland that you’re a fan of?

That is a hard question but there are so many start up’s really paving the way for inclusion and diversity in so many areas in Ireland. Some of my favourite organisation are; Dignity partnerships, who are looking to support refugees into entrepreneurship are fantastic, BacktoWorkConnect are providing a much needed support to many individuals who are out of the workforce. WayToB are a great organisation looking to really bring change in the accessibility space, The Together Academy are also a fantastic organisation looking to really change people’s lives. KeppAppy they are absolutely killing it in with their app and continuing to go from strength to strength. Definitely check them all out as they are exploring so many different ways to support individuals in the diversity and Inclusion space.

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