What Business Resources are Available for People with Disabilities?
As part of our series on startups, we’re addressing the subject of helpful business resources for those with disabilities.
If you’re a disabled entrepreneur considering a new venture, these organisations are there to offer help. They include specialist business funding, opportunities for grants, as well as local resources, advisory bodies and the possibility of mentorship.
Writing a Business Plan in the UK
Starting a business inevitably requires a business plan.
These documents are a way to think through and plan for every aspect of your new venture. They also serve as useful reading for anyone you might ask for support or funding, so you need to get it right.
- The Prince’s Trust website has a useful template you could use here.
- Find great examples of existing business plans for inspiration on the Business Plans website here.
Business Guidance & Advice for UK Entrepreneurs with Disabilities
- Try your local Growth Hub, of which there are 38 in the UK, to get support, access to accelerator programs and mentorship, plus access to a database of co-working spaces or offices to rent. Visit their site here.
- It might also be worth checking in with a Disability Employment Advisor, also known as a ‘Work Coach’, at your local jobcentre. They are well placed to point you in the direction of further training, funding and potential grants. Find out more here.
- Mutually Inclusive is an organisation that offers tools to help those with learning disabilities, specifically. Ask them about their RED Training for Entrepreneurs workshops, which aim to support the development of business ideas that are being pursued by people with learning disabilities.
- Mentors Me connects startup businesses with mentors. Find out more on their website.
UK Funding Sources
Most startup businesses will require external funding at some stage in their early development, whether it’s to help buy the equipment they need to launch or to fund the next stages of growth. These are the startup loans and grants that people with disabilities can access.
Government-Backed Startup Loans
Government-backed startup loans are personal unsecured loans that are available to individuals looking to start or grow a business in the UK. In addition to finance, successful applicants receive 12 months of free mentoring and exclusive business offers to help them succeed.
Find out more and apply here.
Fredericks Foundation’s mission is to give people excluded from mainstream credit access to short-term loans so they have the opportunity to transform their lives. The Foundation operates in the south of England, covering Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Surrey, Sussex and Kent.
Find out more here.
Virgin Startup Loans
If you’ve been trading for under 2 years, you can benefit from a loan from Virgin Startup. These specialist startup loans come with 6 months of mentorship and 12 months of business support.
Find out more here.
Kaleidoscope Investments provides funding for high-growth startups run by people with disabilities. In return for funding, it receives an equity stake in the business. It also works closely with every entrepreneur to help them turn their bright ideas into profitable businesses. The fund is currently based in London and invests in entrepreneurs across the UK.
You can find out more here.
UK Grants for Entrepreneurs with Disabilities
The grants we’ve listed are those specifically assisting businesses run by entrepreneurs with disabilities, but there’s a much wider pool of grants out there focussed on businesses of all types. Almost all of these grants will be open to those with disabilities, providing the sector your business operates in matches the grant criteria.
We’ll endeavour to keep this list regularly updated. If you’re part of a grant scheme we’ve omitted from this list, we’d love to hear from you.
Access to Work
The UK government’s Access to Work scheme is the best funded and most widely eligible support system for people with disabilities seeking help to get into paid employment or who wish to start their own business.
The scheme even supports those doing internships or apprenticeships, but grants aren’t offered if the work is purely voluntary. Grants cover ‘permitted work’, which means you can’t earn more than £140 per week or work more than 16 hours.
Apply and find out more about eligibility here.
New Enterprise Allowance
This government scheme provides mentorship and a grant of up to £1,274 over 26 weeks or a loan to help with startup costs (if your business is less than 2 years old).
Talk to your local Jobcentre plus representative to see if you’re eligible.
The Oli Bennett Charitable Trust
This small charity was founded as a testament to a young man who died in the World Trade Centre bombings of 9/11. While not specifically targeted at those with disabilities, the trust offers small grants (no more than £2,000) where other methods of fundraising may have failed.
The trust prefers to support the purchase of a business asset as opposed to funding for general expenses and applicants must be aged 30 and under. Learn more and apply here: https://olibennett.com/
Stelios Philanthropic Association
For entrepreneurs with disabilities who have shown ‘exceptional entrepreneurial spirit and business ability in the face of significant barriers’, this charity offers an annual award worth £100,000. This is broken up into a top price of £30,000, four smaller awards of £10,000, and four prizes of £5,000.
The Prince’s Trust
The Prince’s Trust offers support to young people, aged between 18 and 30, via workshops, mentorship and funding. It is aimed at all young people in the UK and works to make all their opportunities as inclusive for those with disabilities.
Learn more about how they can help you start a business here or call them on freephone 0800 842 842 with specific questions you may have.
Unltd is a wonderful support organisation for social entrepreneurship. Applicants must be:
- 16 or over
- Living in the UK
- Working for the benefit of others
Conscious that disabled people are twice as likely to be unemployed in the UK than their non-disabled counterparts, Unltd has partnered with Scope to offer two awards that may be appropriate for potential businesses.
- Do it Award – Up to £5,000 in funding plus mentorship and advice.
- Grow it Award – Grants of up to £15,000 plus mentorship for businesses already making a difference.
This trust can help with vocational training towards employment rather than the business itself. Grants usually do not exceed £3,000 and are open to anyone currently at school or college in the UK with a physical or sensory disability.
Apply here: https://www.snowdontrust.org/grants
The Arts Council offers specific project grants that are funded by the National Lottery. It’s the largest grant of its type in the UK with a budget that exceeds £50 million a year. Find out more here: https://www.artscouncil.org.uk/projectgrants.
The School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE)
If your new business is a social enterprise, the School for Social Entrepreneurs may be able to offer you a grant or give you access to training courses to help you launch your venture. It runs six-day courses as well as shorter workshops. The organisation also offers mentoring and other resources to help aspiring entrepreneurs.
Writing a Business Plan inthe USA
Developing a business plan is a basic for any new venture and is particularly important if you seek funding or grants. It demonstrates that you’ve thought the whole thing through and have analysed the market and your potential profitability.
For those with disabilities, a business plan may fulfil the additional functions of clarifying what support you’ll need, such as assistive technologies, and how much they’re likely to cost.
- The VCU Research and Rehabilitation Centre offers a great Q&A on this topic which will answer a lot of your questions. See it here.
- The US Small Business Administration (SBA.gov) page on how to register a business is here.
Business Guidance & Advice for American Entrepreneurs with Disabilities
A huge amount of evidence supports the fact that new businesses with mentors who can offer guidance and advice are more likely to succeed. Here are the resources you can turn to:
- SCORE is a nonprofit resource partner of the US Small Business Administration (SBA). It gives you the chance to connect with mentors via email, video chat or face-to-face in your local chapter. Find more information here.
- The Association of Women’s Business Centres (AWBC) has a network of more than 100 locations across the United States. Find out more about their training, mentoring, business development services and financing here.
- Also relevant is the Minority Development Business Agency, funded by the government, whose programmes and services better equip minority-owned firms to create jobs, build scale and capacity, increase revenues, and expand regionally, nationally, and internationally. Find your local MDBA centre here.
US Funding Sources
Applying for funding is a lot easier with the support of someone who knows where to look. There are many sources of funding within the US that are closely related to particular business sectors and it can require a lot of digging to find them.
Start by checking in with your local Small Business Development Centre via this link. These places are staffed by people with a deep understanding of what money may be available to someone in your particular situation.
Accion is a nonprofit, community lender that’s dedicated to helping small businesses across the US succeed and thrive. It provides flexible, fairly priced loans to a diverse group of entrepreneurs, including the disabled. The loans range from $300 to $100,000 and must be guaranteed by the business, with personal guarantees often required.
The loans can be used to:
- Hire staff
- Adapt a vehicle
- Buy assistive technology
- Configure the workplace
- Be more competitive
Find out more about Accion’s small business loans in the US here.
Small Business Administration (SBA) 7(a) Loans
People with disabilities who have a good credit rating should consider the 7(a) loans from the SBA. If you are a service-disabled armed forces veteran then the SBA Express Loan offers reduced fees. However, even if you’re not, SBA loans still offer some of the lowest interest rates and longest repayment terms you’re likely to find.
The SBA Community Advantage Loan is a popular subset of the 7(a) loans, offering amounts ranging from $50,000-$250,000. They’re intended to help small business owners in underserved groups, including the disabled population.
You can find out more here.
Small Business Association Microloans
Another arm of SBA-backed lending is the SBA Microloan, which offers up to $50,000 in funding for home-based businesses and microbusinesses. The SBA works with a number of nonprofits to administer the microloans, many of which have a mission to help underserved groups including disabled entrepreneurs.
Find out more here.
US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Business Loans
The USDA is another regular backer of entrepreneurs with disabilities. Although the USDA doesn’t provide the loans directly, it guarantees the loans made by private lenders and can be a good source of funds for rural businesses. A larger share of people with disabilities live in rural communities, making the USDA a common source of funds. As well as living in a rural area (one with fewer than 50,000 residents), you must also have a good credit rating and sufficient business revenues to qualify.
Find out more here.
Assistive Technology Business Loans
These loans are available to help business owners meet the cost of assistive technology such as wheelchair-compatible vehicles and braille-compatible software. There are several lenders that provide assistive technology business loans at below-market rates. An example is the National Disability Institute, which offers loans of up $30,000 for businesses in New York and New Jersey.
Contact your state’s commerce or business department to find assistive technology loans near you.
StreetShares Short-Term Business Loans
If you are a service-disabled military veteran, you could be entitled to a short-term, small business loan from the veteran-run lender StreetShares. It offers loans of between $2,000-$100,000 to small businesses that have been operating for at least a year but have low revenues. The maximum you can borrow is 20 percent of annual business revenue.
State-Specific Startup Business Loans
There are also lots of local startup loan programs that are available to disabled-owned businesses in specific states. For example, the Iowa Able Foundation can provide loans for business equipment and workspace and the Advantage Illinois loan program offers credit-builder and business assistance loans.
Contact your local Small Business Development Centre for details of the loans available to disabled entrepreneurs in your area.
US Grants for Entrepreneurs With Disabilities
The PASS Program
PASS, standing for Program to Achieve Self Support, is a program designed to ease individuals towards self-reliance (and eventually off federal supplemental security income) by entering the workplace.
PASS can help to fund:
- Business supplies
- Attendant care
- Transportation to work
- Books, fees and training
- Specialist equipment
This funding does come with some exacting criteria, one of which is that it’s not open to those with a net worth of more than $2,000 ($3,000 for couples). That ensures the funding reaches and supports those who need it the most.
Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses Program
The federal government’s goal is to award at least three percent of all federal contracting dollars to service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses each year.
Federal Government Grants
The Federal government offers a wide range of grants for businesses operating in different industries and sectors. You can search for funding opportunities in your sector here: https://www.grants.gov/
It’s also worth checking the Small Business Administration (SBA) grants website and the Department of Health & Human Services for additional opportunities.
National Arts and Disability Center
The National Arts and Disability Center has specific opportunities relevant to artists with disabilities. Artists can request up to $3,000 in funds for projects that contribute directly to their professional goals and career development.
National Institutes for Health
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer grants to research organisations that recruit and support students, post-doctorates and investigators from groups who are nationally underrepresented in health research or the SBIR program, including the disabled. This grant is also available to post-doctorates and investigators who become disabled and need additional support to continue working on research projects.
Learn more here.
Writing a Business Plan in Canada
Creating a business plan is a must for aspiring business owners. It will allow you to access funding or grants and help you think about the support you’re likely to need, such as assistive technologies, and how you will fund it.
- The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) is a financial institution devoted exclusively to entrepreneurs. It offers a free business plan template that will help you define who you are, describe what your business is and explain how it will be profitable. Download the template on their website.
- Futurpreneur Canada’s Startup Program includes a free interactive business plan writer that provides examples to guide you and plenty of tips and tricks to help you produce a structured plan to get your business off the ground. Access it here.
- The University of British Columbia’s Small Business Accelerator Program is an excellent resource that provides links to sample business plans, templates and general business plan writing tips. Find it here.
Business Guidance & Advice for Canadian Entrepreneurs with Disabilities
If you’re a Canadian entrepreneur with a disability, there’s no need to go it alone. There are some excellent sources of business advice, training and mentoring that could ease your journey to small business success.
- The Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Program (EDP) provides support for entrepreneurs across Western Canada with a disability or ongoing health issue who have a viable business idea and want to start or grow their own businesses. It provides access to business skills coaching, mentoring and counselling as well as business loans in some locations. Learn more here.
- Startup Canada’s 2020 Social Impact Program supports social entrepreneurs with access to training, mentorship, funding and resources. The program is open to entrepreneurs who are impact driven and are interested in advancing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Read more here.
- Startup Canada’s Women Entrepreneurs Program supports female entrepreneurs, particularly those from marginalised groups, including the disabled. It provides support through education, training, mentorship and assistance with funding. Read more about the program by following this link.
- Small Business Enterprise Centres located across Ontario offer a range of resources to aspiring entrepreneurs, including assistance with business plan development, access to advisors and information on patents, copyrights and trademarks. Find your nearest Small Business Enterprise Centre here.
- Rise’s Peer Supported Training and Mentorship Program equips those with mental health issues and addiction challenges with the knowledge and skills to launch and grow a business. Visit the Rise website to find out more: https://risehelps.ca/peer-supported-training/
Canadian Funding Sources
Many Canadian startup businesses have to access external funding of some kind to buy the equipment, assistive technologies and stock they need to get their businesses off the ground. These are some of the best sources of business loans and grants for entrepreneurs with disabilities in Canada.
Canada Small Business Financing Program
This program makes it easier for startups and small businesses to access loans from financial institutions by sharing the risk with lenders. Small businesses and startups operating for profit in Canada with revenues of $10 million or less are eligible.
Find out what financial support is available from Industry Canada for qualifying businesses.
Futurpreneur Canada has joined forces with the Business Development Bank of Canada to make it easier for aspiring entrepreneurs aged 18-39 to access funding. It offers collateral-free loans of up to $60,000 at better interest rates than most banks. Find out more and apply here.
Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Program
Entrepreneurs with a disability in Western Canada can get financial advice and access to business loans. To be eligible for a Rural EDP Business Loan, you must be located in a Community Futures service area, have adequate loan security and owner investment and be able to demonstrate the economic viability of your business. Contact your local Community Futures office to apply.
Rise Startup Loan Programs
This funding program for entrepreneurs takes into account the fact that disabilities are just as likely to be mental as physical. If you have a great idea for a business and don’t qualify for funding from a traditional lender, this program could be for you. You must self-identify as having a mental health issue or addiction challenge to qualify for a low-interest small business loan of up to $10,000. Find out more and apply online.
Canadian Grants for Entrepreneurs With Disabilities
Opportunities Fund for Persons With Disabilities
The Opportunities Fund Program, run by the Government of Canada, provides financial support to help people with disabilities prepare for, obtain and maintain employment or self-employment. You could receive financial assistance for training to help you start a business if you have a permanent physical or mental disability and are not eligible for insurance benefits. Find out more here.
Ontario Disability Support Program Employment Supports
If you’re a disabled entrepreneur living in Ontario, you could potentially access the multilayered Employment Supports funding program. Employment Supports can help you develop and implement a business plan, market your business, provide training and give you financial assistance towards the cost of business tools, equipment, supplies, licences and certification. Call your local ODSP office or apply online.
Federal and Provincial Government Grants
In Canada, there are many federal and provincial business grants offered by the government to startup companies, including those run by disabled entrepreneurs. They include everything from refundable tax credits for research and development costs to grants that can help with the costs of hiring. Find out more about the federal grants that are available here, while this resource provides details about the grants available at a provincial level.
SmartStart Seed Fund (Ontario Only)
The SmartStart Seed grant, run by the government of Canada, provides funding of up to $70,000 for startups that operate in the tech or innovation space. The startup must be based in the province of Ontario, you should own the intellectual property and the funding must be matched at a rate of 1:1. You can learn more about the grant on the OCE’s website.
In Australia, people with disabilities have a higher rate of entrepreneurship (13 percent) than those without (10 percent). Although those are encouraging statistics, disabled entrepreneurs still have to overcome numerous barriers that able-bodied business owners don’t have to think about.
Thankfully, there are a growing number of resources, tools and funding options that can help disabled entrepreneurs overcome the economic and social challenges they face so they can launch and grow their businesses successfully.
Startup Support in Australia
Startup support isn’t all about funding. It’s also vital that training, mentorship and networking opportunities are available to help disabled business owners get ahead.
Writing a Business Plan in Australia
Creating a compelling business plan is one of the first obstacles all entrepreneurs must overcome. This document is vitally important for business owners who want to access funding, and thankfully, there is plenty of support out there.
- The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science provides a range of resources to help entrepreneurs develop their business plan, including a business plan guide and template that’s solid, well-structured and can be tailored to your business. Download the guide and template here. It also has a tool you can use to find a business adviser in your area.
- National Australia Bank provides a business plan template that you can download for free. It walks you through each stage of the process to ensure nothing gets missed.
- Innovation and Skills Australia has produced a comprehensive business plan guide and template to help you through the process. Download the guide here (pdf).
Business Guidance & Advice for Australian Entrepreneurs with Disabilities
Entrepreneurs with a disability may need increased guidance and advice to take their business ideas to the next stage. Here is the support that’s available:
- The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science has a simple tool you can use to find a business adviser in your area. You can chat with a business adviser online, over the phone or face-to-face, with some advisers even visiting your business.
- The Australian Government’s Small Business Website has a full list of business workshops, networking events, conferences and webinars that can help you improve your business skills and grow your network. Just enter your postcode to search for events and training opportunities in your area.
- The Small Business Mentoring Service (SMBS) is a not-for-profit service in Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania that connects entrepreneurs with retired business people who volunteer their time as mentors. Find out more here.
- Business planning courses are available throughout South Australia and are offered by training organisations including TAFESA. Take a look at the ‘getting advice’ section of the Department of State Development Small Business website or enquire via email: DSDSmallBusinessStrategy@sa.gov.au.
Australian Funding Sources
Startup business funding can get you from where you are to where you want to be. It comes in many forms, with two of the most popular forms of funding being startup loans and small business grants.
If you have been in business for more than six months and can demonstrate that your business is profitable, you may be able to access a short-term or longer-term business loan from a traditional lender. A bank is likely to ask for collateral such as property, a vehicle or machinery to secure the loan against, while an online lender may be able to provide you with an unsecured business loan, which may be easier to arrange but come with higher rates of interest. Specialist online lenders to consider include Cigno Business Solutions, Lumi, Max Funding and Moula. They all lend to businesses with a minimum trading time of just six months.
Remarkable Disability-Tech Accelerator
The Remarkable Disability-Tech Accelerator is a 16-week accelerator program that equips early-stage startups with the knowledge, skills, tools and seed funding they need to grow. It provides up to $35,000 for 5 percent equity in businesses that harness technology to improve the physical, social and economic inclusion of people with disabilities. Find out more about the accelerator and submit an expression of interest here.
Australian Grants for Entrepreneurs With Disabilities
The Entrepreneurs’ Program, run by the Australian government, gives startup businesses access to expert advice and financial support through grants that can help entrepreneurs with disabilities achieve their goals. Whether you’re looking to grow your business or improve your supply chain performance, there’s a program to suit you. Find out more here.
Small Business Entrepreneur Grants Program
Small business owners in Queensland can get financial assistance in the critical early stages of establishing their business from the government-run Small Business Entrepreneur Grants Program. It provides matched funding of up to $5,000 for eligible businesses to cover the cost of a business consultant, advisor or business coach for up to three months. Business must have fewer than 20 employees, an Australian Business Number and a Queensland headquarters to qualify. Find out more here.
There is a whole host of government grants and funding programs to help small businesses across Australia succeed and grow. The GrantConnect website is the easiest way to find current government grant opportunities in your area.
Minimum Viable Product Grant
If your business is located in New South Wales and is still very early stage, this grant could provide you with up to $25,000 to assist you in putting together a minimum viable product. Only businesses that are yet to generate revenue are eligible and applications are open all year round. Find out more here.
The Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) provides matched funding for startups and small businesses engaged in research activities via its Kick-Start program. Businesses can receive $10,000-$50,000 in matched funding to cover the cost of research into a new idea with commercial potential or the development and testing of a novel or improved product. Find out more on the CSIRO website: https://www.csiro.au/en/Do-business/Solutions-for-SMEs/Our-Funding-programs/CSIRO-Kick-Start