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As entrepreneurs, we’re always looking for ideas on how to effectively run our businesses, launch new ventures, raise more capital, be better leaders and attract incredible employees. Investing in the accessibility space is one surefire way to accomplish many of these goals at once.
Six years ago, I launched a startup, Verbit, which quickly grew into a $2 billion company that’s leading the way in accessibility. Many of my entrepreneurial peers and our partners are building and running thriving businesses and attributing their success to greater investment in access.
Everyone from Google to Microsoft to Harvard University has an accessibility policy or inclusion arm. Microsoft launched a neurodiversity hiring program, while Apple is giving prescription hearing aids a run for their money with its AirPods’ hearing aid feature.
Here are some tips on how and why entrepreneurs like you should commit more resources to accessibility for business longevity and financial success.
Why entering the accessibility space is such a smart move
One key indicator of business success is the total addressable market, the size of the audience you can appeal to. Apple and other tech giants are pushing resources toward accessibility-focused innovations because they understand the statistics
More than 1.5 billion people have some form of hearing loss globally. Projections suggest that by 2050, that number will rise to over 2.5 billion. That reality has boosted the over-the-counter hearing aid market, one ripe for innovation, to over $1 billion.
Hearing aids, and now even assistive technology in cars that helps people continue to drive as they age, are examples of innovations that improve people’s lives by helping them maintain autonomy. It’s lucrative for entrepreneurs to start businesses that give people more control, freedom and better quality of life. Businesses that open themselves up to accessibility are attracting more talent, customers and best of all, investors.
Start by looking internally: Your current hiring practices and employees
Filling positions can come with a price tag of $15,000 for each employee who earns around $45,000. It only goes up from there. Being unable to fill positions also puts existing employees at risk of burnout.As an entrepreneur building your startup into a functioning business, you need to eliminate opportunities for turnover. Enlisting inclusive hiring practices is one place to start.
Studies at CVS and Microsoft showed that their initiatives aimed at hiring employees with disabilities improved their bottom lines. People with disabilities are underemployed, even in job markets with low unemployment levels. Start by training your team to prevent ableism — the idea that candidates with disabilities may not be able to perform — when they are more than qualified. Educating hiring managers and ensuring that your process is an accessible one is a great place to start. From the CV submission process to the interview, make sure your team is trained and platforms are accessible to all applicants.
I’d also recommend hiring someone or making a current team member responsible for accessibility and inclusion to orchestrate these efforts, review your processes and hold you accountable. Creating a leadership position to address accessibility and inclusion highlights the importance of them to your startup, which investors will find attractive as well.
How an accessibility focus can help you attract investors
Investors are paying attention to what startups and companies are doing for the common good. You’ve likely seen the term “ESG” pop up. Environmental, social and government (ESG) considerations evaluate a company’s impact on the natural world and humanity. These metrics are vital for many investors and accessibility is an important part of the equation.
Inaccessible businesses neglect the social component of ESG and expose themselves to legal risks. As a result, even if they aren’t put off by the lack of accessibility, risks of costly lawsuits can deter would-be investors. To prevent this, even newer founders should be in discussions ESG consultants. Consultants, even if you don’t have enough funding yet to hire them, can help you identify areas to focus on. Is your website accessible? Are you contributing to air pollution? Investors will be impressed by your efforts to track changes in these areas.
ESG reporting is all about transparency. Investors will want to see your scores and showing them the proactive steps you’re taking to develop a responsible corporate culture will attract them.
Doubling down: How to start an accessibility-minded business or arm
There are so many barriers impacting the lives of individuals with disabilities. As an entrepreneur, you’re gifted at identifying key problems. Why not find one that they’re facing and solve it to create a positive impact?
My product was initially developed for the legal industry. I started considering additional use cases and the TAM. I founded my company in Israel, which is home to 1.8 million people with disabilities. However, even from the startup stage, our prospecting and growth efforts were focused on selling abroad to serve the 61 million adults with disabilities in the US. Putting out Verbit in the US meant an exponential increase in our TAM. Now, our solutions are making it easier for people worldwide — not just those with disabilities — to study, work and live their lives more efficiently. That’s why entrepreneurs are poised to enter the accessibility space — we think big and can have big impact.
My advice to you is to keep finding ways to pair your ideas and startup’s capabilities with greater problems in need of solutions. Investors need to understand that your mission will be lucrative, but if they also buy in to the “why” with the good you can do for the world, their commitment and mentorships will extend beyond the financial investment alone. The same goes for your team — if they buy into your mission or see how you’re reinventing your hiring processes, they’re going to stay. They won’t see it as just another job.
Creating something that’s able to improve the lives of millions rather than a “nice-to-have” offering makes for smart business. Get into the accessibility space if you’re interested in doing just that.