Founders with disabilities compete for funding opportunities in first virtual event from Viscardi’s National Center for Disability Entrepreneurship.
The Viscardi Center, an internationally renowned non-profit providing a lifespan of programs and services that educate, employ, and empower children and adults with disabilities, hosted its first-ever National Center for Disability Entrepreneurship (NCDE) Virtual PitchFest Competition on Thursday, November 19. The exciting event pitted 10 founders from around the country in a battle to win more than $50,000 in equity-free cash grants and special prizes from a panel of exacting judges.
The NCDE PitchFest also featured remarks from Henry Schein, Inc.’s Chairman & CEO Stanley M. Bergman, and a keynote address from Arlan Hamilton, Founder of venture capital firm Backstage Capital. Hamilton, who built Backstage Capital from the ground up in 2015 while homeless, discussed the importance of supporting entrepreneurs from underrepresented groups, including people with disabilities.
The NCDE PitchFest Competition is a product of the program’s mission to empower innovative self-starters to achieve self-employment success. NCDE equalizes access to the entrepreneurial landscape for founders with disabilities through its skills building curriculum, subject matter experts, mentorship opportunities, Accelerator Fund, and PitchFest Competition; the latter of which elevates awareness of their businesses in front of a panel of elite judges and a live, virtual, interactive audience.
“The National Center for Disability Entrepreneurship provides guidance for and expertise to the disability community to enable individuals to join the ranks of those who have successfully launched a business. Our first-ever PitchFest Competition accelerates this process within the world of entrepreneurism,” The Viscardi Center’s President & CEO John D. Kemp said. “We also hope elevating equal opportunity for founders with disabilities will demonstrate that self-employment is a pathway to combat the staggeringly and unacceptably low labor participation rates in this country that have many of us living at, or below, the poverty level. Self-employment offers an opportunity for us to utilize our talents and create a path to financial independence.”
Each founder had five minutes to pitch their unique business idea to the judges : Michael Chiang, Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Stony Brook University, SBDC; Carmen Daniel Jones, President & CEO, Solutions Marketing Group; Amy Marks Dornbusch, General Partner, Willowtree Ventures; and Kathy F. Rocha, Assistant Director, Peter J. Werth Institution of Entrepreneurship & Innovation, UCONN.
Virginia-based Susan Picerno, founder of Little Tiger Productions, a startup fictional content company for and by people with disabilities, was voted the Audience Favorite Ideation Stage Founder, winning the top prize—a $10,000 marketing and branding package from UNI Communications. The top three equity-free cash grant prizes, selected by the judges, were awarded to Alex Smith-Michaels, founder of Milestone Day School; Julie Eugene, founder of Lifestyle Builders; and Dani Bowman, founder of DaniMation.
The PitchFest Accelerator Fund is supported by the Minowitz Family Foundation, First National Bank of Long Island, Jay Goldberg, and John V. Pelliterri. Pro bono mentoring packages were generously donated by UseableNet, Prime Digital, LandUseUSA, Words I Wheel By, and Broadridge Financial Solutions.
Meet NCDE’s PitchFest Founders
Dani Bowman, DaniMation, California
DaniMation Entertainment is the first animation production and talent development company founded by a person with autism. The Company produces award-winning animation, world-class training programs, employment opportunities, and educates the public about the remarkable talent, creativity, and capabilities of people with autism.
Melisa Boodie, Lemonade Diary, New York
Lemonade Diary, LLC is the first online mental health resource aggregator with advanced search options to empower people impacted by mental health issues with the free, non-biased, validated information they need to make decisions about their treatment.
William Medina, Bridging the Gap Training & Staffing, New York
Bridging the Gap Training & Staffing provides businesses who want to employ college graduates with disabilities a pipeline to trained candidates, on-site assistance, and ongoing support for a successful and mutually beneficial placement.
Susan Picerno, Little Tiger Productions, Virginia
Little Tiger Productions produces and publishes riveting fictional content starring people with disabilities and by people with disabilities, for all to enjoy.
Christiana Chineme, Bright New Horizon, New York
Bright New Horizon is a 501(c)(3) that changes minds and save lives by disrupting the acceptance of domestic violence in the U.S.-based Nigerian community.
Mary DuCharme, Natural Transitions, Montana
Natural Transitions Consulting, LLC (NTA) provides expert training to service providers on all aspects of assistive technology so the provider is empowered to fully serve their clients with disabilities. Natural Transitions provides an extensive course selection that is affordable, flexible, and taught with purpose and passion.
Gabrielle Jassie, Your Path Ahead Coaching, New York
Your Path Ahead Coaching provides a Warm Approach to Transformational Change, for women ages 20-44 with and without disabilities. Your Path Ahead provides a step by step plan to stress, more effectively deal with wellness, stress, sleep deprivation, a life transition, life challenges and/or to achieve further independence.
Julie Eugene, Lifestyle Builders, Florida
Lifestyle Builders, LLC saves time and money for renters, first-time home buyers, and real estate agents with budget friendly interior design, staging, décor, light home repair and de-cluttering services. Lifestyle Builders gives you More Life with Less Space.
Ruben Ceballos, Haven Housing Consultants, California
Accessible Housing Consultants, LLC analyzes and improves accessible and affordable housing options, developments, and programs for people with disabilities. It also assists government agencies, real estate lawyers, real estate law firms, and housing related non-profits to better understand the housing needs of the disability community.
Alex Smith-Michaels, Milestones Day School, Massachusetts
Advancing Milestones, Inc., the first national education franchise founded and led by a person with autism, transforms the lives of people with autism and mental health challenges through its state-of the art, evidence-based therapeutic Day Schools, Consulting Services, and multi-modality teaching programs.
About The National Center for Disability Entrepreneurship
The National Center for Disability Entrepreneurship (NCDE) at The Viscardi Center empowers innovative self-starters to achieve self-employment success. Developed and led by a highly experienced team of subject matter experts and mentors, NCDE offers aspiring founders with disabilities from across the U.S. a free, virtual, fully accessible program, professional benefits assistance, opportunities to pitch their business, as well as receive equity-free cash grants from the NCDE Accelerator Fund. NCDE also actively seeks out partners to help build the first accessible entrepreneurial ecosystem and elevate entrepreneurship as a strategic pathway to financial independence for the disability community. To learn more, please visit: viscardicenter.org/ncde
About The Viscardi Center
Founded by Dr. Henry Viscardi, Jr., who served as disability advisor to eight U.S. Presidents and became one of the world’s leading advocates, The Viscardi Center educates, employs and empowers people with disabilities. It provides Pre-K-12 education, school-to-work youth transition services, vocational training, career counseling and employment placement, and assistive technology to children, adolescents, and adults with a wide variety of disabilities. The Viscardi Center also assists businesses in advancing disability inclusive cultures in their workplaces. To learn more, please visit: viscardicenter.org