Disability Entrepreneurs are persons who don’t let their physical challenges hold them back from achieving their entrepreneurial vision. To be a successful disability entrepreneur requires commitment, tenacity and a healthy dose of creativity. In this post, guest author Patrick Young provides some useful information and tips for budding disability entrepreneurs.
Physical Limitations, Unlimited Business Possibilities
Disabled individuals are a highly underutilized asset in the workforce. Unfortunately, having a disability means you are statistically more likely than your able-bodied peers to suffer with un- or under-employment. Don’t let your disability stand in your way of success. We’ve got answers to your most common concerns about becoming a disability entrepreneur, starting a business, managing a business, and ways to pay for your entrepreneurial endeavors.
Here are a few tips on how to use your big ideas to become a disability entrepreneur and start your small business:
Consider sticking close to home
One of your greatest obstacles as a disability entrepreneur will likely be transportation and ease of mobility. If you have the space, you can always run the business out of your home. Options that don’t involve strenuous physical labor include accounting, crafting, graphic design, article writing, and marketing consultation.
If you choose a business that requires keeping up with inventory, consider investing in inventory management software. SquareUp explains that these programs can help you keep a close eye on your company’s cash flow, keep real-time track of inventory, and forecast upcoming needs. By paying attention to your supply chain, you can ensure you always have products available and in stock, so your customers aren’t having to wait. You can sell items from home through Amazon, Etsy, and the even the Facebook Marketplace. Shipping has been made remarkably easier over the last few years, and UPS now offers on-call pickup and will happily drop by your home office for same-day pickup, if necessary.
Seek out special funding
There are many loans and grants available for alternately-abled entrepreneurs. These will vary by state and may not be available for every type of business. Disabled World claims there are currently more than 1,200 grant programs available through the federal government and more than 55,000 available at the state level or via private foundations. If you are a veteran, you may also be eligible for special assistance through the VA. Military.com notes that a veteran-owned small business (VOSB) may be eligible for tax benefits that can make it more affordable to own and operate a business, regardless of whether it’s home-based or not.
Know where support is available
The process of becoming a disability entrepreneur and starting your own business is daunting for everyone. The Small Business Administration offers numerous entrepreneurial resources for people with disabilities that can help you make informed decisions and locate possible tax provisions and incentives. Depending on where you live, you may also have access to local support from your Chamber of Commerce or workforce development agency. SCORE is another invaluable pool of knowledge that can help you connect with a mentor in your industry. DIVERSEability, an online magazine dedicated to the professional advancement of people with all varieties of abilities, offers more information on resources available for disabled men and women.
Push your limits
They say that the first step is always the hardest. This applies to many situations, but especially when starting a business. But you don’t have to relegate yourself to plugging away at a computer in order to enjoy success. Surviving Disability asserts that disabled people have ample opportunities when it comes to more conventional careers. Baking, childcare, and doing home repairs are all areas that you shouldn’t be afraid to explore.
You don’t have to have full control over your body in order to control your financial future and become a disability entrepreneur. Some of the most successful people throughout history have had physical limitations to overcome. FDR, Ray Charles, and Stephen Hawking are just a few that come to mind. While you may never be president, play in front of sold-out crowds, or crack the code of the universe, there is nothing stopping you from being the boss.
Patrick Young is an educator and activist. He believes people with disabilities must live within a unique set of circumstances–the outside world often either underestimates them or ignores their needs altogether. He created AbleUSA to offer helpful resources to people with disabilities and to provide advice on navigating various aspects of life as a person with disabilities.
When a company copied their invention, Natasha and Fred Ruckel began investigating — and got an inside look into how products are ripped off.
On Valentine’s Day in 2015, Natasha Ruckel and her husband, Fred, were sitting in their living room in Gilboa, N.Y. Natasha was improvising on the piano, and Fred was listening while messing around with the couple’s cat, Yoda. Fred noticed a ripple in the living room rug, forming a half circle on one side. Again and again he tossed toys into the ripple and a delighted Yoda darted in and out. Natasha looked up from her playing. “That’s when we came up with the idea for the Ripple Rug,” she says.
The Ruckels, who had spent around 25 years earning their living in marketing and advertising for brands from PepsiCo to ESPN to Hasbro, were already in the midst of creating their first venture: an app that provided a way for amateur photographers to monetize online images. But they both agreed that the Ripple Rug was a better bet.
A couple of days later, Fred went to Home Depot and bought some cheap pieces of carpet, and they got to work on a prototype. When they had that, they launched a Kickstartercampaign in May 2015, pricing the American-made product at $39.95, to test the market. Within 30 days, they received $15,000 in backing. They had the products made in Georgia for $15 each, and filled the orders.
The Ruckels were weighing their next step when, that fall, the opportunity of a lifetime hit. QVC, in conjunction with the Today show, hosted an ongoing competition called the “Next Big Thing” for entrepreneurs with new retail products. Participants presented their offerings on the TV program, and the winning products received an order from QVC.
Following an arduous vetting process — including proof of a multimillion-dollar insurance policy, a guarantee of having 1,500 items available for sale and sample videos of the Ruckels in pitch mode — Ripple Rug made the cut. “We drove into New York City, and at every exit, we practiced the pitch,” Fred remembers. “We were there by 5 a.m. and hardly slept the night before.”
They sold a few hundred units immediately. QVC bought 1,500 more and Ripple Rug became a top seller. “It was pretty damned amazing,” says Fred. “We were profitable out of the gate, which is virtually unheard of. It felt like a great moment.”
It was, and it wasn’t. Over the next 14 months, the Ruckels learned that coming up with a truly original innovation attracts not only devoted customers but also the kind of highly organized, deep-pocketed bootleggers who rip off products and systematically grind their inventors into the ground — both financially and emotionally. “It creates so much discord that you are willing to give up the dream of entrepreneurship and go back to your day job,” says Fred.
In the thick of battle, however, the Ruckels learned critical lessons: the importance of copyrighting assets before launching; the reality that people will steal everything from your marketing pitch to your product to your advertising photos; the need to continually patrol for ripoffs and take action. They also got a darkly fascinating glimpse of how ruthless, well-funded, deeply sophisticated bootlegging operations work — and how, with tenacity, vigilance, a good lawyer and the right strategy, they can be beaten.
To read how they won, here is the rest of the article:
Earlier today, iPEL, Inc., launched its new website and a brand-new model of patent monetization, which offers free and paid licensing options to operating companies. iPEL has also defined a set of business practices that a Non-Practicing Entity can follow in order to call itself an Ethical NPETM.
iPEL was formed with $100 Million in initial capital, in May of 2017, by Brian Yates, a well-known patent monetizer, and Rasheed McWilliams, a respected patent trial attorney. For the last year, iPEL has been actively building its worldwide patent portfolio, which currently includes more than 1,000 distinct patent families.
iPEL announced its Initial License Offering, available only through the end of 2018, which provides all companies an opportunity to secure a license to iPEL’s entire worldwide patent portfolio, through one of two licensing programs: (1) free licenses for small businesses and startups, and (2) paid licenses for larger businesses.
Both categories of licenses should be a welcomed change for operating companies, who historically learned of patents owned by one of Mr. Yates’ companies by being sued. Indeed, the dozens of NPEs that Mr. Yates has owned were often amongst the most active patent plaintiffs in the US and were responsible for more than 1,000 patent infringement lawsuits, against a majority of the companies on the Fortune 1000.
With iPEL, it seems clear Mr. Yates is intent on pursuing a very different monetization model. “It’s pretty funny,” said Mr. Yates. “Several people thought I retired or left the patent monetization business, because during the last year, I have not created dozens of new NPEs or filed hundreds of new patent lawsuits. But, I just turned 43 years old, and I have no desire to retire anytime soon. I love what I do and am incredibly proud of what we are doing with iPEL. And, even though it has been fun keeping the details of iPEL a secret, it’s going to be a lot more fun watching iPEL impact the entire innovation ecosystem.”
Although Mr. Yates and Mr. McWilliams would not share the full scope of what iPEL has planned, it is clear that they want to change the NPE narrative. Providing a defined list of best practices and clearly defined pre-litigation licensing options are definitely new talking points for NPEs.
Even the most vigilant anti-NPEs, however, will have a hard time criticizing iPEL’s offer to grant small businesses and startups a completely free, no strings license to its entire patent portfolio.
iPEL’s free license is available to any company whose gross annual revenues do not exceed $5 Million USD (or the equivalent in any other national currency) and is for a one-year term. Although the license is renewable, it is not available to affiliates or subsidiaries of larger entities that do not meet the revenue restrictions.
“We know that small businesses and startups are the most likely to engage in paradigm-shifting innovation” said Mr. Yates, CEO of iPEL. “Those companies are not afraid to take risk, to ask big questions, or to dream. Unfortunately, in almost all instances, those same companies cannot afford to buy all of the patent licenses they need in order to implement their new technologies. iPEL wants to help these companies succeed, by giving them a large portfolio of patented technologies, upon which they can freely build.”
“There is no reason patent licensing cannot and should not be a celebrated exchange of innovation and technology between those with rights and those who need to leverage those rights in order to produce and distribute products,” said Mr. McWilliams, President of iPEL. “Patent and technology licensing has been a part of the fabric of American culture since the earliest days of our history as a nation.”
“Regrettably, patent licensing has become a maligned practice over the last decade in the United States,” said Mr. Yates. “This has allowed the many benefits of patent licensing to lay unrealized, and for innovation to stagnate. My hope is that by giving free, non-exclusive rights to iPEL’s valuable patent portfolio, startups and small businesses will create more jobs and create exciting new technologies.”
Of course, there is a self-serving piece to what iPEL is doing as well. If startups and small businesses do successfully build on the patents in iPEL’s portfolio, then they will at some point becoming paying licensees. “Sure, it just makes good business sense really,” said Mr. McWilliams. “These small companies don’t have the ability to pay for patent licenses, and a patent infringement lawsuit could cripple them before they even get started. We’d love for them to build on our valuable technologies without worry, and once they can afford it, purchase an ongoing license. It is a win-win for everyone.”
At the end of the day, iPEL hopes this new, startup-friendly model becomes an industry standard. “Despite the false narrative that has been spread by many willful infringers, NPEs are a vital part of innovation and the global economy. And, at iPEL, we are holding ourselves to the highest professional standards, by giving all companies an opportunity to secure licenses on reasonable, pre-litigation terms. And, small businesses and startups should never be afraid of an NPE jeopardizing their company. For those reasons, we challenge the rest of the industry to follow our lead,” Mr. Yates said. “It is time for NPEs to stop allowing infringers to define us as a bunch of heartless monsters. Everyone should abide by the Ethical NPETM practices and support small businesses and startups. It’s simply the right thing to do.”
More information about iPEL’s Ethical NPETM criteria, its worldwide patent portfolio, and its free and paid licensing programs, is available at www.ipel.com.