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The best thing about conferences is the networking. I had recommended to Gregg Ireland, the conference host, that we use a social platform where we can engage with people interested in this topic before and after the conference. He liked the idea so I launched a Google + While using “social” for business was expected and even required for me while I was at IBM, I didn’t realize that it was not the norm for most people. In fact, what I miss most about IBM since leaving in July is the ability to collaborate with colleagues, agencies, and partners via technology. I really miss Sametime (The IBM branded chat tool) and the web conferencing tools where during constant conference calls participants always had a running banter in text as commentary to the presentation. Before I left IBM I had introduced and piloted a very cool platform called Vivastream, which enables people who have registered or are just considering attending a conference to begin networking with each other and with the speakers.

We now have about 65 members of the Google+ Autism Employment Entrepreneur community. Then Autism Speaks launched a Linked In group for a similar mission. Perhaps more people are comfortable with Linked In.

And speaking of technology, the conference featured 3 different ventures in the tech industry. I described one of them in part 1 of the conference review.

Aspiritech, is a non-profit based in Chicago, founded by Brenda Weitzberg and her husband Moshe Weitzberg in 2008 and designed around their son’s interests and potential. They provide software testing and quality assurance services. This leverages the strengths of people with high functioning autism: attention to detail, commitment to rules, and affinity for repetitive tasks. I had heard Brenda and Moshe present a few years ago at the Hilibrand symposium and after that tried to generate interest in Aspiritech among a few IBM executives, particularly in the Rational business unit. At the conference I had a chance to share my experience with Chet Hurwitz, who is on the board of Aspiritech, and also a former IBMer.

The third technology business was NonPareil Institute, a Plano Texas non-profit founded by Dan Selec and Gary Moore and focuses on training in software. They have trained 140 students and have a wait list of 600; and they now have 5 full time employees and 26 part time employees all on the autism spectrum. The trainees/employees have produced 5 apps, and a few ebooks.

There were many other businesses that presented – see list below. Links to businesses (bold indicates they presented)

Technology businesses

  • Aspiritech, headquartered in Chicago, which employs high-functioning adults with autism as part of a workforce that conducts domestic software testing and provides other quality assurance (QA) services

  • AutonomyWorks, also in Chicago, which leverages the unique talents and abilities of people with autism to deliver technology services, such as website maintenance, reporting and quality assurance, to companies of all sizes

  • NonPareil Institute in Plano, TX, which provides training in technology services, particularly app development, and employment to individuals with ASD

  • Inclusion Films Workshop in Burbank, CA, which provides vocational training and an entry-level knowledge of film and TV production to adults with developmental disabilities

 Consulting / Social services

  • Autistic Global Initiative in San Diego, whose members on the autism spectrum provide professional and consulting services to a range of industries

  • ICan house Founded by Kim Shufran, she hosts social clubs by age based on need to develop social skills

Services

  • Rising Tide Car Wash, in Parkland, FL, which created a system that breaks the car washing process into 46 distinct steps so families affected by autism can operate car washing businesses

  • Extraordinary Ventures is a non-profit based in Chapel Hill, and operates 5 businesses: laundry service, gifts, bus cleaning, event space, and mailing services.

 Food

  • Beneficial Beans, a Phoenix-based café that trains adults with autism spectrum disorders and provides  employment opportunities

  • Stuttering King Bakery, Scottsdale AZ which provides Matt Cottle with the opportunity to bake and sell his creations

  • Waggies by Maggie & Friends, based in Wilmington, DE, which employs adults with intellectual disabilities to bake, package and market all-natural dog treats

  • Poppin’ Joe’s Gourmet Kettle Korn based in Louisburg, KS, which was started to create an opportunity for Joe Steffy, a young adult with Down syndrome and autism spectrum disorder, to run his own business. Today, the company employs several part-time workers and sells snacks at fairs, craft shows, car shows and events throughout Kansas and Missouri

 Retail

  • [words] Bookstore in Maplewood, NJ, which operates as a training facility so adults with autism can learn retail job skills and move on to larger companies

 Farms/Horticulture

  • Roses for Autism in Guilford, CT, which employs adults with ASD who cut, sort, grade and care for the roses grown on a large farm

  • Green Bridge Growers Jan Pilarski and her son Chris launched a aquaponics business in Indiana based on Chris’ great interest in organic farming. (I had a wonderful conversation with Chris at a reception and told him about my brother’s farm, Fort Lauderdale Vegetables, which is a social enterprise.)

Employees from Inclusion Films are producing a video about the conference.

My next blog post will be about a few lessons shared by presenters, and a few of my own take aways.

PS – an interesting blog about this subject by Miha Ahronovitz

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