Welcome to the Autism Advantage podcast! I’m your host, Tom D’Eri, the COO and co-founder of Rising Tide Car Wash. In case you’re not familiar with what we do, we employ a fantastic team of individuals with autism, allowing us to empower our staff while offering a fantastic experience to customers. We believe that individuals with autism are an incredible untapped resource for many business, and this show is dedicated to proving that employing these people can create real competitive advantages.
Today I’m joined by the remarkable Bill Morris. Bill founded Blue Star Recyclers, which employs people with autism and was named Colorado’s 2016 Social Venture of the Year.
After he was laid off from his job when he was in his 50s, Bill began working at a disability services center with no relevant experience other than having a developmentally disabled older brother. There, he encountered four young men with incredible innate skill for electronics. Each of them turned out to have autism.
Seeing the potential, Bill wrote a business plan for an electronics recycling organization (something else he had no prior experience in) to create an employment opportunity for these men and put their talents to use. When Bill brought his now-employees from their dayhab setting into an employment setting, he saw remarkable changes in them. Two non-verbal men, for example, became verbal in the workplace setting.
After beginning as a for-profit company, Blue Star Recyclers became a nonprofit to be able to fund the gap between earned income and expenses. Now, they’ve almost completely closed that gap. Once they do, they’ll use grants to buy equipment and grow. The current goal is to become fully self-sustaining, then to be profitable for a year, and then to give the company back to the employees and become 100% employee-owned. In this conversation, you’ll learn about the company’s transition into a nonprofit, and what the benefits have been.
In the past, Bill has tried to start businesses with other motives, such as making money. In those cases, he ran into lots of obstacles. When he opened this one, though, everything seemed to come together in remarkable ways. “It’s the universe’s way of giving you the nod of approval,” he explains.
For example, trying to buy a truck led to finding investors who did an incredible amount to turn the company from a vision into a reality. Bill’s story will inspire you to believe in the good in people, and motivate you to get out there and find your own kind-hearted investors who believe in your social enterprise.
In This Episode:
[01:03] - Why did Bill start Blue Star Recyclers, and what has the journey been like so far?
[03:39] - Bill talks more about learning the recycling industry, which he was completely unfamiliar with before he started researching it to create his company.
[05:12] - Tom points out the importance of being honest about the things you don’t know, which is similar to what Bill has been talking about.
[05:52] - How did Bill find people who helped fill his knowledge gaps, and build his team? In his answer, Bill reveals how much of an impact his quest to find a truck had on the business.
[07:40] - We hear about a couple of the people who Bill has hired so far.
[09:36] - The motive for both Blue Star Recyclers and Rising Tide Car Wash was to do good and put people to work, not to make heaps of money, Bill points out.
[11:22] - Bill talks more about the mentors who helped him figure out how to build the business from a technical perspective.
[13:21] - We learn about the process of going from for-profit to non-profit, and what Bill’s plan is for the future of the organization.
[16:11] - Tom draws out some of the statistics and business advantages that Bill had mentioned related to employing individuals with disabilities. Bill then talks about how he takes advantage of those benefits, as well as how remarkable the impact of the work has been for several of his employees.
[19:45] - Bill has learned that people on the spectrum are inherently safe employees because they don’t deviate from the procedure that you give them.
[20:22] - Bill thinks that he and Tom may end up saving their respective industries, and explains why.
[21:53] - Other employers who employ the entry-level workforce have problems that Bill doesn’t experience at all with his employees.
[24:35] - Tom points out that you need to be able to take the long view if you’re planning to stay in business for a long time.
[25:20] - What advice would Tom give to people who are looking to start social enterprises and hire individuals with autism?
[27:47] - Tom lists some ways for listeners to find his company and help them out.
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