LAUNCH 6 was made possible by the 2022 Toronto Vital Signs Grant that supported the development of self-sustaining businesses led by six passion-driven SMILE youth.
Shaza working on her handmade jewellery venture.
From early on in life, parents, teachers, and adults often encourage children and youth to have high aspirations and goals. Whether becoming a doctor or entrepreneur or creating a novel innovation and changing the trajectory of the world, “dreaming big” is the standard for children growing up. However, having high aspirations can come with an expensive price tag - both financially and emotionally - when these goals and ambitions are not met with the appropriate tools, accommodations and support for children to achieve their dreams. This is especially the case for youth with disabilities, who represented a meagre 39% of the employment rate in Canada in July 2020, as reported by Statistics Canada (Employment and Social Development Canada, 2021). Children and youth with disabilities may unintentionally be set up for failure when trying to achieve employment goals. Their accommodations do not include appropriate planning and individualized support to help develop their social and employable skills. This is starkly highlighted in research from the Canadian Institute for Inclusion and Citizenship (n.d.) that found youth who are diagnosed with Intellectual Disabilities (ID) or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) represent the most unemployed citizens in Canada. Only 22.3% reported being enrolled in some paid employment.
Research has shown for youth with disabilities, specifically those with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD), increasing access to community pre-employment or employment options through means such as supported entrepreneurship can significantly increase their employment opportunities, quality of life and community connections (Readhead et al., 2019). Through supported entrepreneurship, youth work closely with a team of mentors and support staff to develop their ideas and products while gaining entrepreneurial and social skills (Readhead et al., 2019).
Launch 6, a program developed by SMILE Canada Support Services, and supported by the Toronto Vital Signs Grant, was created to build and develop self-sustaining businesses for six youths with disabilities using a supported entrepreneurship model. Nesa Hosseinpour, Speech-Language Pathologist led the Launch 6 program alongside support staff, a graphic designer and marketing team, in a location generously provided by the Tawheed Community Center. Participants developed their entrepreneurial, marketing and communication skills while increasing social connections with peers and the wider community. Program session topics included product development, branding, packaging, marketing and advertising. Supported entrepreneurship models can help increase personal and self-determination skills in youth with Intellectual and Developmental disabilities, as they can develop skills in an environment that fosters community connections and social inclusion (Readhead et al., 2019).
Launch 6 began with a discovery phase, where Nesa facilitated icebreaker activities alongside stories of entrepreneurs and their journeys in creating their businesses. During this session, participants were shown a variety of items and products and asked to identify what these items had in common - stimulating discussion and critical thinking skills on how business ventures can begin from a small idea. This activity helped to visually showcase to youth how different hobbies and activities have the potential to become a marketable product. Each youth was then asked to choose which activity they were interested in the most - which they worked on branding and marketing for throughout the program. This discovery phase was extremely imperative as collaborative efforts between participants and trainers in developing meaningful plans for youth is necessary for the model and their businesses to be successful (Readhead et al., 2019).
Current policy on increasing the active participation of people with disabilities has begun shifting towards models of entrepreneurship and self-employment as successful modes of employment (Hsu, 2016). With the appropriate accommodations, supported entrepreneurship provides youth with disabilities the opportunity to build financial and social capital as they build their ideas from scratch and sell these products within their communities. After the 6-week program, Launch 6 participants had the opportunity to sell their products at RECFEST, a community carnival to bring children and youth with disabilities, their families and friends together to promote accessibility and inclusion within all community spaces, programming and events. Hosted by SMILE Canada Support Services in collaboration with Special Olympics Ontario and sponsored by Human Concern International, families were invited to engage in therapeutic and recreational activities, including various accessible sports and games. The Toronto Police Services, Toronto Fire Services, and Honourable MP Kirsty Duncan were among the special guests at this year’s event. Each Launch 6 participant had a booth with unique products on display, where over 500 RECFEST attendees could interact with the youth and purchase their products. 100% of profits from these products went directly to the youth participants.
Amara selling her delicious cookies and cookie jars at RECFEST.
The Launch 6 program was largely successful due to its collaborative nature with youth participants while providing individualized support from mentors, support workers and professionals in the community. For example, Shaza, who was interested in starting a handmade jewellery venture, took part in occupational therapy sessions to adapt her workflow and optimize her fine motor skills to effectively utilize her skillset to create jewellery pieces for her business. An Arabic translator also worked closely with Shaza to mitigate communication and language barriers. Sooni met with an app developer to discuss the sale of app and marketing features for his app Dishful. All participants engaged in role-play of customer service sales, consultations on best practices for themes and colours and set-up of shops at RECFEST.
The Launch 6 program encouraged participants to look into their interests and create opportunities for themselves while pursuing their passions. Reyaz developed his DJ brand by being the official DJ of RECFEST alongside selling totes and t-shirts that included positive messages promoting inclusivity. Abubakr developed branded hot sauce and spice jars and sold them at RECFEST to customers such as MP Kirsty Duncan. Shaza created her line of delicately curated brooches and necklaces. Aashir sold handmade art pieces showcasing flags of different countries and personalized canvases. Sooni held a demonstration of Dishful and sold products such as aprons and t-shirts promoting his app. Amara sold homemade cookies in personalized cookie jars after developing a detailed price plan and marketing set-up.
A snippet of some of Reyaz's tote bags sold at RECFEST.
With the conclusion of the program, all participants received a file consisting of all documents that were created (i.e. logos, labels, etc.), as well as a step-by-step breakdown of how each product was made, where materials were sourced from, and how they can continue to sell their products and support their businesses outside of Launch 6. Participants and their parents were given a guide on navigating this file and continuing the business process. Launch 6 staff were able to secure a list of customers for each participant that was looking to continue to purchase products from them in the future.
Through a supported entrepreneurship model, the Launch 6 program effectively developed entrepreneurial skills in 6 youths with disabilities while increasing social skills and independence. Social entrepreneurship is a model for creating employment opportunities for youth with Intellectual and Developmental disabilities and is also sought after for improving quality of life and social connection to the community (Readhead et al., 2019). Creating group activities with various role-play scenarios allowed these youth to connect and foster relationship development.
Various examples of supported entrepreneurship showcase the benefits these models have in increasing effective participation and skills development for youth with disabilities. These enterprises utilize youths’ skills and interests to create employment opportunities and increase economic and social inclusion (Knott, 2018). Where research has shown individuals with disabilities remain less likely to be employed compared to those without disabilities, both in Canada and internationally, supported entrepreneurship can help fill in this gap by providing the necessary support and skills development youth need in order to thrive independently and in wider society (Turcotte, 2014).
The Launch 6 model adds to existing literature highlighting how supported entrepreneurship programs for youth with disabilities can help promote autonomy, reduce employment disparities and stimulate business (Hsu, 2016). It provided Shaza, Abubakr, Sooni, Amara, Reyaz and Aashir with product creation, development, and marketing opportunities to educate youth on how to participate fully in entrepreneurship employment. Launch 6 gave participants a chance to dream big: it created a safe environment for youth with the appropriate supports to take their creative ideas and bring them to life.
For inquiries, more information on the program, and how to purchase any of the products from the Launch 6 participants, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit SMILE Canada’s website at https://www.smilecan.org/. Click here for a closer look at the Launch 6 Program and its meaningful impact.
Abubakr, Reyaz and Shaza having fun at one of their Launch 6 sessions at the Tawheed Community Centre.
Written by: Nida Khan
Nida is the Director of Research and Education at SMILE Canada - Support Services. She holds a Masters in Public Policy and Administration. Her work, both academic and professional, focuses on advocating for the rights of marginalized populations.
Canadian Institute for Inclusion and Citizenship. (n.d.). Transitioning Youth with Disabilities and Employment - TYDE. https://cic.arts.ubc.ca/transitioning-youth-with-disabilities-and-employment-tyd
Employment and Social Development Canada. (2021, June 1). Helping young Canadians with disabilities learn lasting skills and keep quality jobs. https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/news/2021/05/ccrw-yess-project-announcement-000564.html
Hsu, C. (2016). Social Entrepreneurship for People with Disabilities: Barriers and Facilitators to Business Start-Up. [Master’s thesis, University of Illinois at Chicago]. University of Illinois at Chicago.
Knott, G. M. (2018). Autism and entrepreneurship: An examination of the effectiveness of
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Readhead, A., Whittingham, L., McKay, K., Bishop, C., & Hope, J. (2019). What’s Next?
Post-Secondary Planning for Youth With Intellectual and/or Developmental Disabilities. Journal on Developmental Disabilities, 24(1), 10-26. Retrieved September 22, 2022 from https://oadd.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/41026-JoDD-24-1-v11f-10-26-Redhead-et-al.pdf
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September 22, 2022, from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/pub/75-006-x/2014001/article/14115-eng.pdf?st=-6zjFjRE