Engaged Scholarship Event Recap: Addressing Innovation Challenges for Disabled Entrepreneurs

On the 22nd of September 2023, the Kogod School of Business at the American University, had the privilege of hosting a remarkable event, “Engaged Scholarship: Addressing challenges to innovation for disabled entrepreneurs.” The event offered a fresh perspective on how innovation can break down barriers and empower disabled individuals in the entrepreneurial world.

Here at CIMR we have been formally collaborating with the Kogod School of Business since 2019 and our Director Helen Lawton Smith was pleased to be amongst the speakers with a dedicated presentation discussing the innovation challenges for disabled entrepreneurs. She delved into five pivotal themes, each offering valuable insights into the landscape of innovation, with a particular focus on disabled entrepreneurs.

1. Innovation by and for Disabled People

Helen Lawton Smith’s presentation began with a deep dive into the innovative capacities of disabled individuals themselves.

She explored how disabled entrepreneurs are actively shaping innovation within sectors that are often overlooked. Through compelling examples, she emphasized not only the ingenious solutions that disabled entrepreneurs bring to the table but also the considerable challenges they face. These included the company ‘Nimbus Disability’ run by disabled people for disabled people, who was formally presented with The Queen’s Award for the development of their Access Card scheme, which encodes its holder’s disability/impairment/access requirements.

The discussion around barriers to innovation illuminated the need for a more inclusive approach in society.

2. Regional Dimension to Innovation

In the realm of innovation, geography matters. Helen discussed the regional aspects of innovation and how different areas foster or hinder entrepreneurship for disabled individuals. She showcased the importance of creating supportive ecosystems that enable disabled entrepreneurs to thrive, emphasizing that regional policies play a crucial role in shaping these environments.

3. Increasing Role of Higher Education

Higher education institutions are becoming pivotal hubs for fostering innovation.

Helen emphasized the increasing role of universities in driving innovation and supporting disabled entrepreneurs. She demonstrated how academic institutions can act as catalysts for change by providing resources, mentorship, and access to networks that empower disabled individuals to embark on their entrepreneurial journeys. 

Helen also provided a few examples of organisation nurturing innovation and supporting disability, including the East London Inclusive Enterprise Zone (ELIEZ), which is the first fully accessible, specially designed space for entrepreneurs and businesses leaders who are disabled or are focused on servicing disabled people; as well as our Centre for Innovation Management Research (CIMR), whose members constantly produce thought-provoking research in the field of innovation and disability.

4. Innovation Policy

Effective innovation policy is the backbone of any thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem. Drawing examples from the USA, Helen shed light on the policies that can either promote or hinder innovation among disabled entrepreneurs. Her presentation emphasized the need for proactive policy changes that remove barriers and encourage inclusivity in the entrepreneurial landscape.

She also highlighted a few organizations that are proactively engaged on the field of Innovation Policy. Within the UK, organisation of remarkable engagement in the field are: Innovate UK, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), the Department of Business and Trade, and the All Party Parliament Groups for Inclusive Entrepreneurship (APPGIE). The APPGIE has a special interest in disabled entrepreneurs and innovators and is an important policy actor with a mission to change thinking and practice within the disability innovation space. Likewise, in the USA the Office of Disability Employment Office plays a pivotal role in the field.

5. Advocacy and Systemic Innovation

Helen’s final theme centered on advocacy and systemic innovation. Three disabled women leaders where featured: Jacqueline Winstanley (Universal inclusion), Samantha Everard (SAMME project), Shani Dhanda (entrepreneur). Jacqueline Winstanley was on the zoom call and made a number of very helpful observations on the sections on the joint project for Innovate UK/Innovation Caucus Road to Wonder study.

During this section, it was stressed the importance of raising awareness about the challenges faced by disabled entrepreneurs and advocating for change. Systemic innovation involves not just incremental changes but a complete shift in the way society views and supports disabled individuals in entrepreneurship.

Final remarks about the event

In conclusion, the event at the Kogod School of Business on September 22, marked a significant step toward recognizing and addressing the challenges faced by disabled entrepreneurs in the realm of innovation. Helen Lawton Smith’s presentation was a beacon of hope, illuminating the path toward a more inclusive, innovative, and accessible entrepreneurial landscape for disabled individuals. It served as a reminder that by breaking down barriers and advocating for change, we can unlock the full potential of disabled entrepreneurs and create a brighter future for all.

The event also offered a platform for fruitful discussions, networking, and sharing of ideas among attendees, including students, academics, policymakers, and entrepreneurs. It underscored the significance of engaged scholarship in addressing pressing societal challenges and fostering innovation that benefits all members of society.We would like to thank the Kogod School of Business at the American University and Professor Tomasz Mroczkowski for their valuable collaboration.