Disability: A Competitive Advantage for Businesses

with Diego Mariscal of 2Gether-International

Approximately 1.8 million business owners with disabilities compete in a business world that doesn’t fully recognize their abilities and resilience.

Diego Mariscal, Founder, CEO, and Chief Disabled Officer of 2Gether-International, joins host Tetiana Anderson to share how the entrepreneurial mindset of people with disabilities can be a competitive advantage for businesses.

Posted on:

September 29, 2022

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: According to a 2021 report, people with disabilities are much less likely to be employed than non-disabled people. Stereotypes, stigmas, and lack of accessibility contribute to higher unemployment rates for this population, making self-employment or small business ownership appealing. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. While unemployment numbers tell one story for people with disabilities, my guest today is flipping the narrative. He sees disability as a competitive advantage for business. And joining me is Diego Mariscal, founder, C.E.O., and chief disabled officer of 2Gether-International. And, Diego, thank you so much for being here.

Mariscal: Thank you for having me. Really, really happy to be here.

Anderson: So I want to ask you about you and whether or not there was a pivotal moment or period in your life where you really realized that your disability was a competitive advantage and not a hindrance.

Mariscal: Yeah, it's really been a lifelong journey. You know, I grew up in Mexico, and I had the opportunity when I was in college to go to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. And there I saw a lot of people with disabilities from all around the world, blind, deaf, with processing disabilities, really embrace their disability and be proud of their disabilities. And so I remember leaving that conference and thinking, "How can we replicate this so that people all around the world see disability as something to be proud of, as something to embrace?" And that's really the moment where 2Gether was -- was born.

Anderson: And the bulk of your work at 2Gether-International is to really do the same thing for people like yourself, entrepreneurs, to give them that positive view. Tell us a little bit about the accelerator model that you use and the tools that you provide the people that you work with.

Mariscal: Yeah, yeah. Great question. So we run a traditional accelerator model in that it's 12 weeks, people get access to mentorship, workshops, introductions to potential investors, things like that. What makes us different, though, is this idea of looking at disability as a competitive advantage for business. So, for example, I grew up with cerebral palsy, and when I was a kid, I remember falling off a horse, and the instructor was really surprised because I got up really quickly from the horse -- from falling off the horse, and she said, "This typically doesn't happen. People get scared about riding again." And I said, "Well, I fall every day, you know." And so using that same tenacity and creativity that we experience as people with disabilities can be translated into business. So core of our programming focus on, how do you look at disability as a competitive advantage for business?

Anderson: And I know one of the big tools that you do use is vocational rehabilitation. And I know that's something that you say people don't know enough about. What is it that we need to know, and why is that such a useful tool in your experience?

Mariscal: Yeah. So we, as an organization, don't really interact directly with vocational rehabilitation services, but just from my own personal experience, having used vocational rehabilitation services, that was a critical tool that allowed me to go to college, and basically for free, and graduated with no debt. Right? And so being able to encourage other people with disabilities to use that service so that they can not only get a great education, but also resources for potential employment opportunities is key.

Anderson: So your organization has worked with some pretty high-growth, high-impact start-ups. Can you share a success story of one of the groups that you're working with and explain how the tools that you've given them really helped them scale?

Mariscal: Yeah, I'm really glad you mentioned this because actually one of our graduates was recently able to sell her company for a substantial amount. And before coming to us, she really had no formal business training or business education because of a lot of lack of accessibility and lack of inclusive practices. And so we were able to really give her the tools and the community that allowed her to really thrive in her business. And then another example is Eric Ingram. He's actually building satellites in space so they can inspect other satellites. And earlier this year, he was able to launch his first mission. So they're actually in space doing inspections, which is really exciting.

Anderson: You're also extremely exciting. I mean, you were a competitive swimmer and entrepreneur. You've been recognized internationally for the work that you do. What's next for you and for your organization?

Mariscal: Well, thank you so much for that. I really appreciate it. I mean, I will say that this has been a collective effort of a lot of people and a lot of different organizations supporting what we're doing. We're lucky enough to partner with Comcast, with Google, with Capital One, and other companies that allow us to make this work and really flip the disability narrative. What's next for us is -- Well, I'm not going anywhere. And so the next level is really creating a venture fund so that we can actually invest in the companies directly that are going through our accelerator program. So we're in that process now, fundraising as we speak. And stay tuned because I'll definitely share more in the next months to come.

Anderson: And I know people are gonna want to know more about your organization. So what's the website? Where can they go?

Mariscal: Yeah, so the website is 2gether-international.org, and that's "2Gether" with a 2. And there you can find more about our programs, our meetups, and ways to get involved.

Anderson: Diego Mariscal with 2Gether-International, thank you so much for being here.

Mariscal: Thank you for having me. This has been really fun.

Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well, for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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