Friday, October 28, 2011
Successful HH Entrepreneurs
Successful hard of hearing entrepreneurs. The numbers are few and far in between but they are out there if you look hard enough. What gets me excited is seeing successful, legitimate, ethical businesses run by deaf and hard of hearing entrepreneurs whether they know sign language or not. It becomes an even greater excitement if you personally know someone running a successful business and watched it grow from the very beginning. I don’t say this often or make it apparent but there is a certain satisfaction on seeing deaf and hard of hearing entrepreneurs struggle after many years of hard work, the long hours they put in coming to fruition on the horizon and beyond when their businesses finally take off in a big way.
That’s the American dream. But it ain’t all that easy.
Approximately 50 percent of new businesses go out of business within 5 years in a good economy. The reason for failure is many. It’s even harder for deaf and hard of hearing owned businesses to survive beyond the first 5 year and I would consider a company a success if they survive beyond the 5 year magic mark. Though nowadays it’s harder still for any businesses to survive in our current recession economy when everybody is cutting back to save money. So, it was a nice surprise seeing an article when RIT/NTID their first Deaf Entrepreneurs Roundtable Panel discussion last year in the effort to help uncover keys to successful deaf entrepreneurship.
The panel discussion, “Deaf and Hard of Hearing Entrepreneurs—Living the Dream,” explored a multitude of issues related to deaf entrepreneurship. The panel consisted of eight deaf and hard-of-hearing entrepreneurs from around the country who shared their keys to success and explained some of the challenges that they encountered along the way.
With the advantage of technology today communication is made possible between entrepreneurs regardless of communication preference as they share many common grounds than not. It’s a great idea to bring together deaf and hard of hearing entrepreneurs to discuss ways to survive running a business and make it a successful one. By learning from each other businesses can leverage those knowledge to better compete in a tough market dominated mostly by hearing people and businesses. So, it’s hard to get the deserved recognition.
A coveted spot for any new businesses would to be featured in INC Magazine top 500 fastest growing private company. Although very, very few deaf or hard of hearing owned businesses ever get featured in INC Magazine such as Keen Guides whose owner was one of the RIT/NTID Deaf Entrepreneurs Roundtable Panel members in 2010. One key to recognizance is for a business to be a “game changer.” You have a particular technology or business model that fits what it appears to be a niche market but only to find out it’s really a much bigger market once the idea takes off by fulfilling a demand. Inclusivity is the key in many business models in the deaf/hh -owned businesses. Inclusivity is a rather large market need to fill when you have 36 million people with hearing loss in the United States who typically do not have the same type of access and enjoyment that hearing people have.
Company: Keen Guides In 2004, Catherine McNally — deaf since she was 8 months old — was at a museum and asked for an alternative to the audio tour… only to be handed a 50-page manuscript. Talk about an “aha” moment. Today, her company makes mobile tours available on iTunes that use captions and American Sign Language; there are currently 136 tours available in Seattle, New Orleans and the Washington, DC, area, among others. While funding is pending, McNally is charging full-speed ahead with plans to reach 1,111 sites across the US by November.
The Message: “I am using my work to bring greater awareness for inclusive accessibility in cultural tourism,” McNally says. www.keenguides.com.
This is what I’ve always advocated, the need for inclusiveness for all people, deaf, hard of hearing and hearing people regardless of communication preference. There is no feeling of inclusiveness when you watch a video that isn’t captioned or subtitled (that can be done by capable people and without much effort versus those who refuse on ideological grounds) and instead gets handed a transcript of that video whether it’s done with voice or sign language. There are a few deaf and hard of hearing businesses that I’m aware of who had that “Ah ha” moment and decided to make a business out of it. A time when everything makes sense to risk it because no one else thought of it before on the need to make it work. What makes many deaf and hard of hearing owned businesses successful is their fulfillment of the need for deaf and hard of hearing customers and clients to feel included because they know exactly how they feel. And that, my friends, is a potential multi-billion dollar market place with 36 million people with hearing loss in the United States.