Trailblazing 2016: Neurodiverse Entrepreneurship with Alexai Perez | EDB 34


In this episode, Hackie Reitman, M.D. speaks with Alexai Perez, coordinator of Trailblazing 2016. Alexai discusses the conference’s goals of facilitating entrepreneurship among those with different brains, and her daughter- a burgeoning entrepreneur with down syndrome.

For more information, check out their website: www.trailblazing2016.com

EDB host and Different Brains founder Hackie Reitman, M.D. is going to be a keynote speaker at Trailblazing 2016, learn more here: http://goo.gl/jfHm1g

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HACKIE REITMAN, M.D. (HR):

Hi, Im Dr. Hackie Reitman and welcome to another episode of Exploring Different Brains. Today, we are interviewing Alexai Perez, and Alexai is the coordinator of the big event coming up, Trailblazing 2016. She works as the event coordinator for Picasso Einstein. Alexai, welcome. Thanks for being here.

ALEXAI PEREZ (AP):

Thank you, thank you so much for having me.

HR:

So tell us about this big event youve got coming up, whats going on with that?

AP:

Im very excited. We are planning a one-day conference thats going to be coming to south Florida this September, and its going to take a look at the future of disabilities, business and technology. Our conference is looking to fuel the progress and the innovation that is required to improve the state of employment here in south Florida for individuals with disabilities, as well as inclusion into the work force and sustainability across all channels of living.

HR:

Now, my understanding is that your emphasis and Picasso Einstein’s emphasis is on entrepreneurship; starting your own business, if your brain is a bit different and you have unique abilities.

AP:

Well, entrepreneurship is a wonderful strategy for people who are looking to do just that–who are looking to create and design their own businesses and they want to be their own employer or boss versus being an employee. So it allows individuals to be able to design the life that they would want for themselves. They would do that by acquiring income, acquiring assets through self employment, and they would use flexibility and accommodations in order to be able to achieve that. And thats whats wonderful about entrepreneurship and self employment, is the flexibility that it does offer for them.

HR:

For them. And the “them” were referring to, is those of us, and I include myself, because I got expelled in the first grade and the 10th grade, my brain’s a little bit different. I don’t know exactly what labels I have. Im sure Ive got a bunch of them. But its for any of us whose brains are different, that might not fit in the one-size-fits-all system and so we want to harness our own hyperinterests and figure out how to monotize it and make a living at it.

AP:

Absolutely. I mean, I think at the end of the day, we all get jazzed about doing something that were passionate about. You know? What inspires us, what is natural to us? Self-employment is the opportunity to be able to do that. We are able to take a look at what it is that is at the heart of somebody and what their interests are, and they can form a business around that, and they can work at the technical aspects of work through that self-employment, and just start to develop and create a business that inspires and motivates them.

HR:

And harnessing the hyper-interests, that was one of our–the big chapters in our Aspertools book, which is something all of us overlook; its like to go after what youre passionate about, you love doing, and figure out how to make a living at it.

AP:

Yeah. Life is not a one-size-fits-all proposition, you know? And I think its important that we always look at that, you know, when you look at the job opportunities that are available, sometimes it is that–these are the opportunities that are available and were going to try to make this individual fit that one or two or three opportunities that are available, whereas with self-employment, it opens up the pantheon of opporunities, and really says, “What do you love doing? What do YOU want to do for the rest of your life?” And youre able to say I am going to create that around who i am, as opposed to trying to mold myself or fit myself–adapt myself into something that is a preset opporunity.

HR:

Now, youre a career person who also happens to have five children, I dont know how you do it, Alexai, but you do it–

AP:

Working on that patience every day.

HR:

And tell us about one of your children, Sophia, is going to be going into business on her own, tell us about Sophia.

AP:

Sophia is a pretty amazing young gal, she just became a teenager last week, so you can imagine. She is a very dynamic personality type, she definitely does not fit into a preconceived idea of a human being so she loves art and science, those are her two passions. And so when you take those two passions and you boil it down, Sophia has started a business that involves the sensorys aspects of her makeup and what she presents with. So Sophia loves to have these sensory wands that she holds in her hands, and she holds them in her hands because they provide comfort for her and they provide support for her, and theyre a tool for socialization and different aspects of her personhood, and when we took a look at what Sophia might be interested in doing, and want to do for her life, we started with what does she love? And she loves these wands.

So we really just started to take a look at that and we started to take a look at her interest in art and her interest in the science, and many people do not know that separate from our five senses, there are some additional senses, when it comes to tactile and it comes to those type of senses, those extra three proprioceptive, those are additional senses, so the stimulation that the wand would offer her, offered it to her in all of those senses. So this wand has become this–not only tool for herself–but also a means to start a business, which was, I could create wands–not only do I love them and do they serve my purposes, but then they also can help other people, so we started to take a look at how we could do that. And its been a very interesting, exploratorive, learning time for us–not only to learn more about her and what makes her tic, but also to learn how this tool and this entrepreneurship could kind of give her independence and start to achieve some of those self-determination princinples that weve been working on for so long with her. Ultimately leading to, down the way, to self-sufficiency for herself.

HR:

Now, Sophia, as I understand it–and I think labels are a lousy way to describe a human being–what are some of the labels that she might carry?

AP:

Well the first is Down syndrome, and that alone puts her in a class of individuals–another label that she might carry is low-functioning. Also, you know, another label might be the misunderstanding of the behaviors that she presents with as being that she is a disruptive, unruly, you know–as opposed to their methods of communication for her, and trying to want to express certain things and wanting to share certain things with the world. And so its been interesting dissecting through those labels, and really presenting her as she truly is, and this whole time of her life of her exploring, her business has been an interesting paradigm shift of who she is, because in the past, she would just maybe regulate herself to, you know, outside of a social group or hang back and nobody would approach her, and now with these wands, you know, people want to interact with her, they want to know more about her, they find it fascinating, they find it interesting–theres a way to connect. She also has changed, by her selling these wands and utilizing these wands as a method of saying, this is who I am. I am more than what you see. I am more than what you perceive or more than what you might label me as.

So its been interesting just seeing all of that coming out and her sharing with people, i am a business woman. And, you know, people hear that and they are just blown away. She just got her money card to put her moneys that shes making from her business onto her money card, and when she pulls out her money card, people are like–at first I think they think its fake–no it isnt, you know? And so its just interesting to see how those labels are now kind of going into the periphery and now who Sophia really is is coming to the forefront.

HR:

So someone like Sophia and her family, which happens to be your family, but someone like Sophia–who has Down syndrome, who has certain unique abilities, who wants to start a business of her own, she and her network would very much benefit from attending Trailblazing 2016.

AP:

Absolutely. My daughter is a beginning entrepreneur and she is starting her business and somebody like Sophia would be wonderful for her to participate in a conference like this. Trailblazing 2016 is going to offer the opportunity for entrepreneurs with businesses to be able to showcase their businesses in an expo type of style, where all of the attendees will be able to interact with those entrepreneurs, get to know them better, get to know their product, their business concept, as well as those entrepreneurs, as well as those families, caregivers and support network will also be able to participate in the conference itself within the workshops, being able to engage in the–its going to be a panelist and moderator type of opportunity but as well with the Q and A, so they will be able to participate in the question and answer, be able to ask certain questions that will apply to themselves and what their business is about and as well as we spoke of be able to be a part of the conversation that looks like how do they play a role within businesses and what their futures are? Do–is their business concept something that would make sense to those companies and be able to explore that dynamic of that conversation? So somebody like Sophia would be a great person to be at a conference like this, itd be a great opportunity for her and for her network to learn all that there is to learn about self-employment.

HR:

Now tell us about Picasso Einstein.

AP:

Okay. Picasso Einstein is a training facility that brings in families and their children, children who have disabilities, to be able to train them and educate them in all areas of self-employment. From the start, where its really introducing an idea–a concept, an alternative–to traditional employment to families that may have never considered it or thought about it, to families who know about it, they want this for their children, theyre ready to, you know, hit the ground running. So they bring those families in and they give them a very thorough training on all aspects from ideation to how that idea manifests itself into a practicality, commitment to the idea, and then how it goes to, from there to the possibility of being an actual business, and tehn taking that business, and then how can you make that business sustainable, long-term? And so parents are really able to wrap their head around this because as an alternative, we have about 57 million people in the United States with disabilities, and 15% are potential, theyre starting out as entrepreneurs, so really its a huge area of growth, but within the state of Florida and certain parts of the country, its a very nouveau concept and something that a lot of parents really havent thought about. Most parents are still thinking about their children getting traditional employment jobs, and those type of–especially because of the work force programs within the schools. So they really expose them to a whole other way of thinking about whats possible for their children. They really help those parents future–future, the situation–I think sometimes thats hard for parents, to really future how its going to be–what its going to look like. What do I want? Do I have a say?

You know, can I support my child and what they want? What is their voice? What do they have to say about what they want for their futures, they really help parents explore all of that, and then from there, they then take graduation–parents and families who have graduated and at 16-years-old they then invite those individuals to participate in a training session themselves, thats a summer camp program, wherein those individuals can, again, now its the individual saying, this is my idea. This is what I want to do, and the great thing about that time, is that classroom is all peers. Its all individuals of that same age range and theyre together and theyre working with each other and motivating each other on these ideas, challenging each other–and saying, I think this would be–if you added this, it would be great, or, you know, maybe you want to take that away and really just–because that support, one thing is its a pillar of self determination support, but its also very motivating to have, you know, anybody who starts a business–when you have someone thats coming alongside you and is excited about your business and calls you up and goes, hey hows it going today? You know? So they become really a friendship circle around each other to be able to launch their businesses.

HR:

Now I know that the Trailblazing 2016 is still a ways off, but what is–which are some of the companies are you at liberty to mention that might be joining you?

AP:

There are a few that we are, absolutely–well were very excited that youre going to be participating with us–so were very excited about Different Brains being onboard and for you to share your experience and encouragement because thats also a very big piece of what were doing, but we are also at liberty to say that WIX, which is one of the largest website platform creation companies that is out there, they have formed a partnership with individuals with disabilities to start to help them be able to create websites for their businesses, its really exciting, its really exciting. They actually just partnered with Kung Fu Panda, so were talking about–you know, a really great synergy between what theyre doing and their agenda and Individuals with Disabilities and them needing a platform like a website to be able to sell their products. So they are going to be coming and they are going to be speaking, so were very excited about that. And we are also speaking to–weve had great interest, especially socially, from some of what were doing, and not really–I mean, its been documented on public record, their interest to want to participate, you know, companies like Microsoft and stuff have mentioned interest on Twitter to want to be part of what were doing. So we are speaking to some of those type of companies. But really in those negotiations, so were really not at liberty to get too far into that. So those are the types of companies. I mean we are going to have some of the big tech companies, we are also going to have capitol investors, angel investors, we are going to be talking about microfunding and how entrepreneurs are able to access money, and financial support for what theyre doing, and what makes sense and maybe what doesnt make sense for how can they really take a look at their businesses and make it more lucrative for somebody who wants to invest in their business. We also are goign to take a look at how women are going to be breaking some barriers in entrepreneurship.

HR:

Equal pay day.

AP:

So we are looking at something thats a little–you know, its definitely a topic of conversation, how women are breaking into entrepreneurship and really being great CEOs of their own businesses, and so thats really exciting. So we really are going to have a great mix of people that are going to be attending the conference and participating.

HR:

For everyone who might be hearing, reading or listening, or watching this, and they want to get involved in Trailblazing 2016, how do they do it?

AP:

Wonderful. Well we have a couple of opportunities. Our first is we have our website so they can certainly visit us at trailblazing2016.com and we have information on our website, speaker interest page, so if there are potential speakers that are interested in participating, they can go through the general application process and be considered for being a speaker at our conference, and then we also have our sponsor deck posted on our website, so if there is anybody that is interested in wanting to sponsor our conference, whether its from a philanthropic standpoint or whether its because they are very personally interested in engaging with this conversation–we have a lot of tailor-made opportunities that we can discuss with them on how they can get involved. They can also look at our sponsorship deck that is available. We also are going to have a very engaged an active facebook page and twitter and so we have our Facebook page is /trailblazing16, so they can go to facebook and check us out there, and also (hash tag) #trailblazing16 on twitter.

HR:

So what are the challenges that someone who is neurodiverse, who wants to become an entrepreneur, what are some of the challenges she or he might face, and what is some of the help they can get in getting their own business going?

AP:

To begin with, I think that the first challenge is belief in their wanting to be an entrepreneur. Being taken seriously. I think that sometimes we can discredit somebody who is neurodiverse as if what they want is not fundamental to who they are. I think its important that they are able to reach out to whoever in their support group will listen to them and take them seriously. So I think that is the first challenge. I think the next challenge is to be able to put the supports and the accommodations in place that will allow them to access that job. Sometimes that person can say, I really want to do this job, I mean weve even seen right now driverless cars, are really a thing not of the future anymore. They are very much within reach, and there might be a person who is neurodiverse who wants to be an entrepreneur, who says, I envision doing something that I will get in a car, and go–you know? And so no longer is that something that they wouldnt be able to do.

So being able to understand what are the assistive technologies, what are the supports, accommodations that that individual would need to be able to access that job? Then I think it also has to do with education, information–being able to say this is how you would do it. Which is where Picasso Einstein would come in to place. Being able to say you would start here, this is how you would set up a company, this is how you would build up a website–the marketing pieces. Those pieces. And then I think its having that self confidence, that belief in themselves that they can do it. You know, anybody can have an idea in a room, and think its a great idea, but you have to have the self-confidence and the ability to be able to say I can take hold of my dream. I can access my dream. I can see my dream become a reality. So really again, finding those individuals that really inspire you to be able to–sometimes we get down on ourselves, we get hard on ourselves and you really need those people around you that are going to say you can do this. So some of the resources that are available, we go back to, when it has to do with supports–traditional supports arent necessarily the only way to go. Sometimes its not a parent, sometimes its not your family, sometimes youve got to step outside of that maybe close network and find that teacher that really believed in you or that mentor or a job coach. So finding who those people are.

So I think that whats available as far as assistive technologies are concerned, there is everything from speech communications to Eye scanning program software thats out there too, millions of apps that are out now, when it comes to, again ways to put your business out, accessibility through social media through the different types of technologies that have been created so you can really access those to put those supports in place. And I think the final thing when it comes to belief–whatever is going to be able to inspire you, I mean thats a very personal choice, but whatever is going to help you get up every day and say this is–I can do this and I can make this happen–really finding what does that for you, wht helps inspire you. So I think those are some of the challenges and some of the ways that you can access workarounds.

HR:

Well, on that note, its been a pleasure, Alexai Perez, the coordinator and event manager of trailblazing 2016 and Picasso Einstein. Thank you very much.

 

This video is owned by Different Brains Inc, kindly donated by it’s original producer PCE Media LLC.

Author Image
Dr. Harold “Hackie” Reitman is the founder of DifferentBrains.com. He is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, children’s activist, retired orthopaedic surgeon, and a former professional heavyweight boxer. He who currently serves as the CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based PCE Media, LLC, the multi-platform production company he founded in 2004. Dr. Reitman wrote, executive produced and co-directed the full-length independent film, “The Square Root of 2” (starring Darby Stanchfield of ABC’s “Scandal”), and is the author of the book “Aspertools: A Practical Guide for Understanding and Embracing Asperger’s, Autism Spectrum Disorders and Neurodiversity” from HCI Publishing. He also hosts the DifferentBrains.com interview show “Exploring Different Brains.”
Author Image

Harold Reitman, M.D.

Dr. Harold “Hackie” Reitman is the founder of DifferentBrains.com. He is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, children’s activist, retired orthopaedic surgeon, and a former professional heavyweight boxer. He who currently serves as the CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based PCE Media, LLC, the multi-platform production company he founded in 2004. Dr. Reitman wrote, executive produced and co-directed the full-length independent film, "The Square Root of 2" (starring Darby Stanchfield of ABC's "Scandal"), and is the author of the book "Aspertools: A Practical Guide for Understanding and Embracing Asperger’s, Autism Spectrum Disorders and Neurodiversity" from HCI Publishing. He also hosts the DifferentBrains.com interview show “Exploring Different Brains.”

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