Flinders University: Supporting business owners with intellectual disabilities

Business ownership can provide tailored employment pathways for people with an intellectual disability, and new analysis shows it leads to improvements in the confidence, social skills, business acumen, and autonomy of owners seeking meaningful roles.

Researchers led by Dr Claire Hutchinson from the College of Nursing and Health Sciences interviewed 7 small business owners with an intellectual disability and their support networks about their experiences of running their own enterprise, with the results showcasing how they become successful entrepreneurs when provided with the right kind of support.

“The business owners ran a variety of micro-enterprises providing services and products, with some business operating for up to 8 years. There were several valuable outcomes for business owners positively impacting on their overall quality of life” says Dr Hutchinson.


Caring Futures Institute researcher Dr Claire Hutchinson.
All the businesses received support through Adelaide based disability service provider Community Living Project which has been supporting micro-enterprises operated by people with disabilities for ten years.

The evaluation identified the three key supports provided that supported successful entrepreneurship – a micro-enterprise consultant, personal assistant, and an enterprise management group overseeing business development.

“The international evidence shows that disability support workers are often employed to support business owners with disabilities, which can limit business development due to lack of specific business-related skills,” said Dr Hutchinson.

“The CLP model addresses this barrier by employing personal assistants with skills relevant to the business rather than support workers”.

“Combining this approach with the establishment of an Enterprise Management Group with key business skills, including planning, quality control and marketing fosters successful long-term results.”

“Businesses were supported via NDIS funding. However, we identified that business growth was limited by factors such as limited assistant hours or travel allowance to deliver products each week. In the case of the two youngest business owners, it was noted that parents had contributed financial and other resources to support their sons’ businesses. But not all people with intellectual disabilities may have access to such resources.”

“Microenterprise holds a lot of promise as it can provide people with intellectual disabilities with an employment pathway highly tailored to their goals, capacities and interests. With consistent formal support, the evidence clearly shows people with intellectual disabilities can run businesses over many years.”

Dr Hutchinson and one of the micro-enterprise business owners will be speaking at the forthcoming Australia-Korea Cross Cultural Conference on Innovation in Disability Employment hosted by Flinders University 3-4 August 2022.

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