Empowering People with Disabilities to Become Entrepreneurs

Iona’s Hynes Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation is teaming up with The Viscardi Center
to advance entrepreneurship in a traditionally underrepresented community

May 17, 2023

A yellow note paper with a lightbulb drawn on it pinned to a corkboard

Too often, individuals with disabilities find themselves falling into entrepreneurship because a variety of barriers and biases prevent them from entering the workforce through a traditional career path. A new collaboration between Iona University and The Viscardi Center, however, aims to flip that narrative, empowering individuals with disabilities to actively embrace entrepreneurship as a viable, chosen career pathway.

This summer, up to 20 participants will be selected for the new IdeaSpark program, which will meet virtually two days a week and culminate with a Pitchfest. The Pitchfest will give participants the chance to showcase their business ideas to a panel of judges for a chance to win equity-free cash grants totaling $7,500. There is no charge to participate in the program.

Running in collaboration with Iona’s Hynes Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, IdeaSpark will also give Iona students an opportunity to “Learn Outside the Lines” of the classroom in service of others as they engage as Peer Mentors. Iona students will participate in each session, offering support, guidance and feedback along the way.

In addition, the Pitchfest event on July 25 will take place both virtually and in person at the Hynes Institute on Iona’s New Rochelle, N.Y., campus.

“For us, this program not only fits in with everything we do to support entrepreneurship education; it also aligns with Iona’s foundational mission of being a resource to the community while promoting a more inclusive world that provides opportunities for all to thrive,” said Dr. Christoph Winkler, program director of the Hynes Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation. “It also provides a wonderful opportunity for our Iona students to engage with individuals with disabilities in an authentic and meaningful way.”

Over the course of six weeks, Hynes adjunct instructor Holly Blondin along with Iona students will work with participants to:

  • Foster and apply an entrepreneurial mindset.
  • Develop an idea into a viable business model.
  • Enhance their presentation and pitching skills.
  • Learn and apply creative problem-solving skills.
  • Create a professional network with like-minded individuals.
  • Pitch to a panel of judges for a chance to win an equity-free cash grant.

“Entrepreneurship is on the rise in the U.S., with much of the new business development attributable to founders from communities that have historically been underrepresented among business owners,” said Dr. Chris Rosa, President & CEO of The Viscardi Center. “Through IdeaSpark, people with disabilities are emboldened to ride this unprecedent, inclusive wave of business start-ups to help drive our nation’s economic growth.”

The Viscardi Center (TVC) is a network of non-profit organizations based in Albertson, N.Y., that provides a lifespan of services that educate, employ, and empower people with disabilities. It was founded in 1952 by Dr. Henry Viscardi Jr., who himself wore prosthetic legs, served as disability advisor to eight United States Presidents, and became one of the world’s leading advocates for people with disabilities.

IdeaSpark builds on TVC’s previous pilot program, which provided two cohorts of individuals with disabilities training, mentoring and resources to achieve self- employment success. Program sessions will be conducted on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. EST from June 6 through July 20, 2023.

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