Disability Pride Month: Pushing for Inclusivity in Entrepreneurship

“There’s an undeniable urgency for greater inclusivity within the entrepreneurial realm.” – Zhin Kader, Entrepreneur

For Disability Pride Month this July we want to celebrate the disabled founders in our community, amplify their amazing businesses, and platform their voices. As well as a time to spread positivity, this month can also act as a vehicle for change, raising awareness and promoting the ways in which we can all push for greater inclusivity and accessibility in the start-ups world and beyond.

This article is for you if you want to discover new disabled-led businesses, learn how small businesses can be more inclusive, and celebrate the huge contribution that disabled founders bring to the business community.

Through bringing their lived experience to their business, many founders have created organisations that provide something they wish they had had access to, like Victoria with accessible fashion brand Unhidden, Kim with ADHD coaching business Own Your Flair, and Sylvia with inclusive talent agency Love Disfigure

For other founders, like Martha, this lived experience of having a disability is a huge strength on the operations side of being a business owner and has made her a more empathetic, inclusive employer.

"I think having a disability like endometriosis has made me a much more empathetic person. It’s made me understand that people are ill and a lot of people struggle with things, not just endometriosis, but mental health issues, with visible disabilities, and hidden disabilities. So as an employer, as I now am, that means that I’m more sensitive to the needs of my employees."

Founder Spotlight: Zhin Kader

Zhin Kader is a Hatch Launchpad graduate and the co-founder of Estéra Swim, an inclusive swimwear brand. She spoke to us about how being a disabled founder influenced her decision to build an accessible brand, and shares her top tips on embedding inclusivity into a new business.

What made you want to be a founder?

My Autism manifests in me with a clear sense of right and wrong. This ethical compass was constantly tested when I was an employee in the fashion industry, where I witnessed numerous questionable practices and found myself at the receiving end of some.

Having Autism and ADHD gives me this insatiable want to chase multiple pursuits at the same time. My restless drive often felt out of place in the conventional rhythm of the fashion realm. Freelancing brought me closer to autonomy and control, yet that desire to do so much more remained. When Bina, my sister and co-founder, vented her frustrations about the lack of playful yet supportive swimwear, I just jumped on the opportunity.

Estéra Swim was born, aiming to uplift those who’ve felt marginalised by the swimwear industry. Through Estéra Swim, I’m on a mission to demonstrate that businesses can be ethical, inclusive, and profitable without resorting to harmful practices.

What challenges have you faced in launching your business?

As a startup, Estéra Swim presented its fair share of challenges. The swimwear sector, deeply entrenched in its traditions, often resists deviation from its established norms. Carving a space for swimwear tailored for fuller busts and championing universal accessibility in swimming has been akin to swimming against the tide, especially when soliciting investment.

Moreover, the journey towards sustainable and innovative swimwear materials is ongoing. We’re delving deep into research and development, ensuring our products reflect a minimal environmental impact. It’s crucial to remember that any environmental consequences disproportionately affect the very marginalised communities we aim to serve. This disparity is dead against what we stand for.

What do you love about being a founder?

The Estéra logo in white text on a peach pink background.

What I cherish most about being a founder is the autonomy to create and innovate.

It’s empowering to know that through Estéra, I’m not just crafting swimwear, but reshaping narratives and championing my mission of doing no harm, and pushing for more diverse representation and accessibility in the world of swimming.

Every decision, design, and direction feels meaningful, knowing that we’re about to make a tangible difference.

What support would you like to see in place to enable more disabled people to thrive in entrepreneurship?

There’s an undeniable urgency for greater inclusivity within the entrepreneurial realm. My perspective is multi-faceted, shaped by my identity as a woman, my upbringing in council estates, my Kurdish heritage, and living with a disability. Organisations like Hatch have been instrumental in offering essential tools and resources tailored for individuals like me.

However, the next crucial step lies with the investors. A report by McKinsey highlighted a concerning trend: substantial funds are being directed towards repetitive programmes saturating the market and leaving underrepresented founders tired of revisiting the same paths.

What diverse and disabled founders truly need is tangible, liquid investment. The investment community, including Venture Capitalists, must recognize that the commitment they make now might only yield visible returns in the long run, much like the government’s foresight in funding initiatives such as school hot meals.

It’s time to genuinely acknowledge and harness the unparalleled potential that disabled entrepreneurs, with their diverse perspectives, bring to the business landscape. To paraphrase the Mckinsey report: we are not just underrepresented – we are underestimated.

A picture of Zhin sat on a sofa sketching some designs.

What do you think business founders could be doing to improve inclusion in their businesses?

Founders hold a pivotal role in steering the course of inclusivity. It’s not just about building diverse teams, but actively ensuring that these diverse voices are central to decision-making processes. Training programmes, like those led by experts such as Frank Starling, can provide invaluable insights, educating teams about the multifaceted nature of diversity.

However, beyond formal training, it’s imperative for founders to remain receptive to feedback from marginalised communities. Addressing sensitive issues requires immense courage, and the response they receive can set the tone for future communication.

For those looking to embark on this journey, a good starting point is to engage with and follow founders who prioritise inclusivity, like myself. Additionally, advocates such as Celia Aris (nee Hensman), Laura Mathias, and Jamie Shields are setting commendable standards in championing disability diversity.

Be Your Own Boss: Starting Your Own Business as a Disabled Person in the UK

As a disabled person in the UK it can be challenging to find a flexible and inclusive working environment, so why not make one for yourself?

Promoting Inclusivity in Entrepreneurship

Disabled founders bring a wealth of benefits to the entrepreneurship space and supporting their businesses means a vote for inclusive business practices, a vote for greater accessibility, and a vote for a fairer society. For Disability Pride Month and beyond, choose to support disabled founders and creators, and commit to learning from expert voices in this space. At Hatch we believe that it is possible to build a better world through entrepreneurship, and through investing in and celebrating underrepresented founders, this better world is in sight. 

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