Canberra entrepreneur and disability advocate Jessica May has achieved more in just six months than what many business owners do in years.
The former public servant founded disability recruitment firm Enabled Employment in September last year after experiencing first-hand the challenges of being an employee with a disability. She told her boss that she had a disability after a thyroid condition aggravated her anxiety following the birth of her first child, and soon found her responsibilities replaced with menial tasks.
Jessica wanted to improve employment outcomes for other people with a disability, and Enabled Employment, which uses flexible working arrangements to help people with a disability to find productive, well-paid work, was born. The company now has around 85 clients and 1600 potential employees on its database.
Last week the firm beat four other finalists to take out Optus’ Your Shark Tank competition, a sponsored side contest that runs alongside the Shark Tank television series on Channel Ten. Jessica received $10,000 in prize money and mentoring sessions from Boost Juice founder Janine Allis. The prize money will be used to develop a marketing campaign to challenge employer’s perceptions of employees with a disability.
In the same week, Enabled Employment was announced as a finalist in the Startup Hero category of the Startup Smart Awards.
Jessica says that one of her long term goals is to change employer attitudes to hiring people with a disability – to the point where companies like Enabled Employment are no longer required.
“I’d love to work myself out of a job,” she says.
“Employers are often scared that hiring someone with a disability is more work and that they’re not as productive. That’s completely untrue. We know that people with a disability are more productive, they’re more loyal so they’ll stay with an employer for longer, and they know what their limitations are.”
Leading by example, all Enabled Employment employees are people with a disability.
Enabled Employment received early development funding under the ACT Government’s Innovation Connect program, and was also part of the first intake in the GRIFFIN Accelerator, which is supported by the ACT Government, local entrepreneurs, mentors and investors. Jessica says she is also grateful for the support offered by Canberra’s startup community.
“When I first started, I thought, oh my God, how do I do this? I had no idea there was such a huge startup community in Canberra, but then Canberra Business Point sent me in the right direction.”
Her advice to others looking to start innovative Canberra businesses is to take advantage of the free learning opportunities available.
“Go along to Entry29’s free events, take a course at Canberra Business Point. It’s a big leap and a big risk to go out on your own, so you need to get all of the knowledge that you can, learn from as many people as possible and find mentors who can help you achieve what you want to do,” she says.