Start Up – Entrepreneurship opportunities for people with disability

  • 2021

  • Social Impact

Designed By:

  • Challenge Community Services
  • Beth Innes
  • Katie Butler
  • Sam Coulter

Commissioned By:

Challenge Community Services

Designed In:


Start Up is a peer-led entrepreneurship program for people with intellectual disability. The purpose of Start Up is to create meaningful employment opportunities for people with disability based on the skills and strengths that they have developed, by navigating a difficult social and physical environment.

328,000 Australians have intellectual disability.

  • MORE
  • People with intellectual disability have an unemployment rate of 34.9% (ABS, 2012). This high rate is due to concurring factors of a lack of entry level jobs plus ongoing stigma and discrimination caused by a lack of understanding of intellectual disability by employers. Supported employment is an option for people with intellectual disability however many people find this to be repetitive and unfulfilling. Challenge Community Services co-designed the Start Up program with people with intellectual disability to develop meaningful self-employment opportunities that utilised their skills, strengths and ideas, particularly those ideas unique to them as a person with disability.

  • Start Up solves the problem of a lack of meaningful employment opportunities for people with intellectual disability by providing a dedicated peer-led course on entrepreneurship. Start Up was designed by people with disability and focusses on the unique and valuable skills that they have developed as a person with disability. By focusing on these skills and supporting participants to plan and develop their business, Start Up creates meaningful self-employment opportunities. Many participants developed a product or service for people with disability which solved an unmet need of their own. 89% of Start Up participants developed a business idea and plan.

  • Start Up has had a significant impact on the people with intellectual disability who established meaningful employment and improved their quality of life. It also had a positive and sustainable impact on the community by changing employer perceptions towards people with intellectual disability. This impact is expanding as Challenge Community Services is providing the course and all intellectual property to other community organisations for free. Fighting Chance are running Start Up in Sydney and Challenge is currently partnering with Aboriginal organisations to run Start Up in Gunnedah, Newcastle and Western Sydney specifically for young Aboriginal people with disability.

  • The key design feature of Start Up is Peer Leadership. Start Up was designed and run by people with disability. Through this, Start Up captured the unique skills and strengths that people with disability have and encouraged them to take pride in those skills and develop them. This peer leadership extended to Peer Mentoring where business owners with disability mentored participants on topics such as: dealing with difficult customers and; dealing with stigma and discrimination. Challenge is currently working with Aboriginal academics from the University of Newcastle to adapt the course to be culturally safe and appropriate for Aboriginal people with disability. Once adapted, the course will be run by 3 locally based Aboriginal organisations with the ongoing support of Challenge. Once complete, this version of Start up will be made available, for free, to Aboriginal organisations across Australia. In Tamworth, Start Up was run under the name Regional Entrepreneurship Challenge (REC) and included people with psychosocial disability or severe mental illness. Challenge is now working to develop a course specifically for people with psychosocial disability as only 25.7% of this cohort are in employment (ABS, 2018). ABS (2018) estimates that up to 1.1m Australians have a psychosocial disability.