We would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands on which we record this podcast The Gadigal people. This is their land, never ceded, always sacred and pay respects to the elders past, present, and emerging of this place. Coming up on Remarkable Insights.
We have to be creative, we have to be resilient, and so it is not about whether or not disabled people are going to be good entrepreneurs. The question is, do they have the right ecosystem support that are going to allow them to thrive?
Disabled and proud, in this episode, we speak with 2Gether International CEO and Chief Disabled Officer Diego Mariscal about his mission to have disability recognized and valued as an asset for business and entrepreneurship. Diego, it’s so great to have you here. If we could start, would you mind giving a description of your visual self and the setting that you’re in?
Sure. Yes. So I am a Latino man. With a… we were just talking about this, with a red painting behind me. The painting has a bunch of wheelchairs on it.
I am wearing a dark blue shirt and black blazer.
Thank you so much for joining me today and I thought we’d just start, for people who don’t, would you mind giving an introduction to who you are and what you do with yourself?
My name is Diego Mariscal. I am the CEO and founder of 2Gether International, which is the leading accelerator for founders with disabilities specifically. We support high growth, high impact startups that are led by disabled founders. We work with over 600 entrepreneurs all over the world. Collectively they’ve been able to raise over $50 million in less than four years. And it’s been an incredible ride.
And I will say that we’re doing it together. Some of the entrepreneurs that we work with, we’ve referred to Remarkable and vice versa. The biggest difference I see is that we’re exclusively focusing on founders with disabilities, but the mission of looking at disability as something to be proud of or something to embrace is definitely a common theme and I can’t wait to see what we’re able to accomplish together.
And I love that your title is CEO and Chief Disabled Officer. Can I get your perspective, these titles like Chief Disabled Officer are sort of new to some people, but I would love for you to give your perspective on the importance of what that title means.
Yeah. That was very deliberate. I hope that a title such as that is able to convey that whoever the next CEO of 2Gether International is, should really be a disabled person. Because really we want to signal to people that this is meant to be by and for entrepreneurs with disabilities and that there is a sense of pride and identity in having a disability.
When it comes to articulating the benefits to a bottom line of investing in this space. What are some the sort of the top points that you would say to people?
That we are the largest minority in the world in the United States. That’s about 20, 25% of of the US population and anyone can become disabled at any point in time.
More importantly though, I think that it is important to recognize that as folks with disabilities, we are innate problem solvers. We have to solve problems every day from how do we get dressed to how we drive, how we communicate and so that… often people are looking at who are the most resilient, who are the most creative, because we know that makes for better entrepreneurs. And the reality is that we have to be creative, we have to be resilient. And so it is not about whether or not disabled people are going to be good entrepreneurs. The question is, do they have the right ecosystem support that are going to allow them to thrive.
For me, there’s this part of a narrative, which is entrepreneurship and advocacy in this space seem to go hand in hand to some degree, but I feel that there is this greater awareness piece, which is to say that we want to get more people with lived experience driving this space as founders, as people who are the developers, designers, but is there part of the narrative where people also need to take into account that there is an exhaustion that comes with the advocacy, that we are just not factoring in that, that people having to fight for this the bare minimum?
That’s another deep question that I haven’t been asked before. So kudos to you for the preparedness. Even in my own life, right? Managing my own disability and managing a business I think certainly there are moments of exhaustion. What I have learned is because there’s no other option I have to prioritize my health, I have to prioritize exercising and sleeping well because if I don’t, it just compounds. Ultimately that makes me a better entrepreneur, right? Because I am taking care of my body and taking care not always in the perfect way, but who is, right? But because I prioritize care that comes with managing a disability, that makes me for a better entrepreneur.
Not everybody has that. Not everybody has the right ecosystem and the right supports in place to be able to do that. To give you an example, vocational rehabilitation services, which are state agencies that are funded by the federal government to support folks with disabilities to obtain meaningful employment. They have a reputation from being extremely difficult to work with. I have been a client and I tell this experience that they ask you what your employment goal is and I tell them 2Gether International and supporting entrepreneurs with disabilities. And then the counsellor comes back to me and says oh, I’m excited about it, to show you all these resources to help you with what you’re trying to do. And what they show me is my own website and my own resources, and I’m like, ‘you are not even reading what is it that I’m working on’. And that’s a funny story, but many times where I’ve worked with vocational rehabilitation services, I still find it extremely humiliating at times and dehumanizing because of the way people in that agency treat folks with disabilities.
And so I share that because, It’s about making sure that all entrepreneurs, but especially entrepreneurs with disabilities, have the right ecosystem around them, right? So that they are able to not just manage their disability, but manage their business in a way that compliments each other.
Talking about the journey of a disabled entrepreneur, is there a really common mistake that you see in the journey to… in the early stages, that you would want to speak to and give people advice of how to avoid?
The number one thing I see is being afraid of losing benefits, which is a very real concern. And I don’t fault the entrepreneurs for this because it is a legitimate concern. That’s why organizations like Remarkable and 2Gether need to exist, right? To be able to help entrepreneurs navigate. But for example, going back to vocational rehabilitation services, so let’s assume that I was going to college and vocational rehabilitation services was paying for my tuition. Also, as a person with a disability, oftentimes you have access to Medicaid services which covers your health insurance in the US and on top of that, you can have access to social security supplementary income if you’re making below a certain amount.
So that’s $800 a month that you’re entitled to. And so if you’re able to utilize those services the right way or the way that they’re intended to be used, you actually have $800 in your bank account that you can start to use to fund your business. Because VR (vocational rehabilitation) services is supposed to be paying for room and board, and so your expenses should be covered. In some ways disabled people can actually have a leg up, pun intended, leg up in entrepreneurship because you know of the systems around it. That’s not to say that it doesn’t come with a taxing prize and that it’s not a difficult thing to obtain. My encouragement or my piece of advice to folks with disabilities is navigating a disability is difficult.
Navigating a business is difficult, but you’re going to succeed not in spite of your disability, but because of the lessons that you’ve learned thanks to your disability.
Are there any pieces of tech that you use that allow you to have that, to keep that balance in place? And if you wouldn’t mind sharing those?
My computer speaks every 15 minutes to tell me what the time is. So that’s certainly one. I use screen readers all the time to read documents and things like that. For the longest time, I thought that having two laptops would be a luxury. I was fortunate enough to be able to get two laptops at one point through vocational rehabilitation services, one of which was very big and bulky, and I have been using it for years and that was my work laptop. And finally my colleague recently was like, Diego, you need to get a new laptop, you’re lagging on the video. Like you need to get a new laptop. And he must have told me 10 times. Cause it’s the impression you’re giving.
And finally, last week I just got a new laptop and and it’s great, it’s great! Having two computers, one at home and one, one in the office. I never think about how much carrying a backpack with weight on me would make a difference. And even though I know that health is really important, this was an example of how hard work technology for me, being able to use both computers is saving me not just the weight off my backpack, but also weight in terms of stress in terms of needs and things like that.
I’m conscious that I’d love you to clock off and go enjoy your evening. So I just have one last question for you. We like to invite the guests to leave our listeners and people enjoying the podcast with a Remarkable Insight, and that can be a piece of advice or something you would just like them to think about after they’ve finished this episode.
Listening. Listening doesn’t cost us anything other than being present, and it is the number one skill that I think entrepreneurs can have because if you listen well, you’re going to pick up on what the market needs. Now, listening doesn’t always mean you have to do what the other person says. People often think that listening means, okay, I’m gonna do what you say, but really listen and be present. And you’ll pick up on some wise insights along the way.
Thank you to our guest, and hopefully you found your own Remarkable moment. Make sure you subscribe to the podcast and follow our Instagram at @remarkable_tech for unheard moments from this episode. Talk with you all on the next one.