A better match: Startups take a personalised approach to disability

After decades spent providing employment services to those with disabilities, Brite Services wants to change the game.

“The challenge is for us to look at things differently, see that market opportunity and then go hard on it,” chief executive Nick MacHale says.

Ken Woollard, owner of Ultralift, with a member of the Brite program, Nick Caligiuri.
Ken Woollard, owner of Ultralift, with a member of the Brite program, Nick Caligiuri.Credit:Chris Hopkins

Social enterprises like Brite believe 2020 will be just the beginning of a significant shift in the country’s disability services sector, moving further towards a startup mentality that focuses on connecting individuals with the employment, care and communities they want.

For Brite, which was founded more than 40 years ago in the Melbourne suburb of Broadmeadows and generates $3 million in income each year mostly through government grants, that means creating new programs.


Brite has long offered employment opportunities for those with disabilities, but it is now preparing to launch a more tailored jobs program. Brite Pathways will allow young Australians with disabilities to focus on skills development and work placements in the year after they finish school so they can create a plan for future employment, with participants able to draw on National Disability Insurance Scheme funding.

MacHale says the program flips the assumptions that Australians have long had about finding the right work for those with disabilities.

“We probably had the wrong proposition… we have [in the past] had this charity approach, like ‘do the right thing’,” he says.

Having canvassed the needs of around 30 small business employers across Victoria, he says it’s clear bosses want reliable and talented staff and there is a way to match them to young employees that may have disabilities.

The program has so far seen young Australians, like Nick Caligiuri, undertake job planning and work at Brite Services as well as meeting with a range of employers involved in the program, including founder of manufacturer Ultralift, Ken Woollard.

Caligiuri, who has limited functioning in his left hand, said the program was helping him plan for future roles, including an interest in retail and administration.

“Taking the next step and getting a chance to build a career into my dream job would be amazing,” he said.

Brite chief executive Nick MacHale says the business needs to adopt a startup like approach.
Brite chief executive Nick MacHale says the business needs to adopt a startup like approach.

Ultralift makes lifts for audio-visual equipment and has teams for consultation and admin, design of lifts and production of these products.

Woollard says he’s keen to meet a range of candidates in the pathways program as he’s on the lookout for young employees that want to learn new skills.

“I want to make sure that jobs are worthwhile to them and that they focus on what they enjoy,” he says.

Delivering to “thin markets”

The nation’s disability insurance scheme is maturing to a point where startups and innovators are shaping a more individualised service, says founder of Mable, Peter Scutt.

“I think there’s a lot of room for new thinking, and that is challenging if you’ve been in the sector a long time. There’s room for more than one approach or model,” Scutt says.

Mable, which was formerly called Better Caring, was founded in 2015 as a way of matching aged care workers with clients with a better focus.

Peter Scutt founded Mable which has raised more than $20 million.
Peter Scutt founded Mable which has raised more than $20 million.

Close to five years on, the company connects individual disability and aged care support workers to clients to help with healthcare, independent living and assistance at work and school.

The startup has raised funding from private equity of more than $20 million, including backing from Ellerston Capital.

It now turns over as much as $50 million, but Scutt says the company’s true strength is delivering quality to “thin markets”, where there is just a small cohort of Australians requiring help and few experts to assist.

Mable has been able to drill down into specific groups, like LGBTI people or those from non-English speaking backgrounds, to understand their needs and find them the right support via the online platform.

“That’s a much more viable and sustainable solution,” he says.

The rollout of the NDIS has not yet been completed, with work still occurring in Western Australia to launch the scheme throughout 2019.

Scutt says as the system grows up, startups like Mable will be increasingly able to offer those with a disability with more freedom to choose who helps them and when.

“I think the scheme will support innovation much better as it moves towards maturity.”

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