VIAble Ventures set to create micro-enterprise jobs for people on the autism spectrum

virginia institute of autismThe Virginia Institute of Autism has completed its work as part of the 2018 class in the University of Virginia’s i.Lab Incubator Program. The 10-week intensive workshop provides a seed grant, workspace, startup mentoring, and legal advice for promising business opportunities.

VIA has used the Incubator and its resources to develop and launch its VIAble Ventures program — an innovative approach to solving the chronic problem of severe underemployment for individuals on the autism spectrum. To meet that need, VIAble Ventures will develop small- and micro-businesses specifically tailored to provide meaningful employment for people with autism.

“Community connection and gainful employment for adults with autism is a severe and growing problem,” said VIA Executive Director Ethan Long. “The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2014 that fewer than 20% of adults with autism had any kind of regular job experience. We’re developing VIAble Ventures to provide this underserved population with a way to experience the connection, stability, and the dignity that comes with work.”

The i.Lab Incubator has helped VIAble Ventures launch its first business – crafting and selling decorative candles. The process has involved working with potential employees with autism to evaluate their skills. It has also involved adapting the production process to suit those abilities.

“The goal,” said Greg Pitsenberger, VIA Program Coordinator who participated in the Incubator, “is to set up production so that all of our clients, no matter how severe their challenges, can have a job and earn a paycheck.”

“The mentoring at i.Lab has been a huge help in doing that,” added Pitsenberger.

Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control now estimates that 1 in 59 people are on the autism spectrum. That incidence has grown substantially in the past 20 years, with the result that increasingly large numbers of individuals with autism are reaching adulthood and aging out of the services and supports of public education.

“When people with autism enter adulthood, funding for services becomes very scarce, and employment opportunities are even more scarce,” said Long. “We’re convinced that one solution lies in developing small, profitable businesses specifically tailored toward the skills and abilities of people with autism. We’re honored that i.Lab at UVA saw the potential in our business model, and they’ve been providing us with essential support and advice in helping us to get it launched.”

The incubator program ran for ten weeks from June to August. VIAble Ventures will begin candle production in mid August. Currently over a dozen local retailers are committed to carrying the candles.

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