In this episode of Work in Progress, I speak with Diego Mariscal, CEO and chief disabled person of 2Gether-International (2GI), about how his organization is working to flip the narrative about the way people think about entrepreneurs with disabilities.
“It’s really important that we start to highlight the competitive advantage of disability as opposed to disability just as something that needs to be cured or fixed rather than celebrated and embraced,” says Mariscal, who was born with cerebral palsy and who started his first business when he was just 17.
“I was born six months and a half into my mom’s pregnancy, a pretty tiny baby. My mom jokes and says that I’ve always been really stubborn even before I was born. I wanted to get out quickly. As a result of that I have CP, cerebral palsy,” he explains.
Mariscal shares his personal story of growing up and living with cerebral palsy to illustrate how it prepared him and other people with disabilities to be effective business people.
“Part of physical therapy for me has always been doing a number of exercises from swimming to playing soccer. Believe it or not, I was the goalie so that I could hold on to the goal, to the frame. Another exercise that we tried was horseback riding because horseback riding helps you with balance, and that was one of the things that my parents wanted me to improve on.
“I remember I fell off the horse and I was a little thrown off, but then immediately I said, ‘Okay, let’s get back up and let’s continue.’ I didn’t really think twice about it. But then the trainer went up and talked to my parents and said, ‘This is amazing. I’ve been coaching for years, and usually when people fall off the horse, they don’t want to get back up and it takes a long time for them to get comfortable getting back on the horse.’
“I share this story because it demonstrates how, as disabled people, we have to figure out how to solve problems every day and how to be resilient, creative, and tenacious. If we can get people to focus on that, on what are the competitive advantages that a disability brings to the table, then the whole conversation around disability changes. And not just the conversation, but also the priority around policy, around programs, around funding starts to shift.”
Founded by Mariscal in 2012, 2Gether-International is the nation’s only startup accelerator run by and for entrepreneurs with disabilities, connecting disabled founders with resources to help their companies grow.
“More than 70 startups have participated, and these businesses have collectively raised over $54 million dollars in funding from investment, revenues, and acquisitions from outside investors, according to Mariscal.
“We started off as your traditional accelerator, which looks at 10 weeks of programming, connecting people with mentors, resources, and supports to grow their businesses. What makes us unique is that we are exclusively focusing on founders with disabilities and the reason why that is so important is because entrepreneurship resources are often not accessible for founders with disabilities,” he explains.
With financial support from Comcast NBCUniversal, 2Gether-International just launched a new accelerator focused on founders with disabilities of early-stage, technology-based startups. Participants are given tools and guidance to develop and strengthen their pitch with the program ultimately culminating in a pitch competition where entrepreneurs can earn $10,000 in seed funding for their business.
“We go through the how do you go from one customer to 10? Or if you have 10 customers to 50 or 50 to a hundred, how do you accelerate your growth and create reputable systems that allow your company to grow? And so how do you actually create a business model?,” he explains.
“Most accelerators are pretty good about teaching folks the basics of financial customer development, customer discovery, business planning. The basics don’t necessarily change. What is unique about us is the way in which we’re delivering the service, in a way that is inclusive and accessible of all people that participate, and the community of other like-minded founders that are coming together and like-minded mentors that are wanting to be a part of this movement that we’re creating.”
Mariscal says he firming believes that 2Gether-International is succeeding in its mission of redefining attitudes around entrepreneurs with disabilities.
“At the end of the day, being an entrepreneur, whether you have a disability or not, it’s still really, really hard work. The measurement that I take of whether we’re moving in the right direction is that every day I wake up and I feel like it’s Christmas. I’m excited to get up and do the work. And it’s not that there’s no hard days, of course there are, but at the end of the day, knowing that we’re making a difference in the lives of countless people with disabilities and the world makes all those hard days worth it.”
You can listen to my conversation with Diego Mariscal here, or download it wherever you get your podcasts.
Episode 290: Diego Mariscal, CEO and chief disabled person, 2Gether International
Host & Executive Producer: Ramona Schindelheim, Editor-in-Chief, WorkingNation
Producer: Larry Buhl
Executive Producers: Joan Lynch and Melissa Panzer
Theme Music: Composed by Lee Rosevere and licensed under CC by 4
Download the transcript for this podcast here.
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