It all started with a notebook and a series of ‘what ifs.’
The notebook belonged to Lauren Askew, a self-professed behavior-science geek. It was filled with ideas about how businesses, agencies, and organizations could build viable all-ability inclusion programs to meet the needs of people impacted by autism, Alzheimer’s, Down’s syndrome, and other disabilities. What if hotels developed safety plans for families traveling with a grandparent with dementia? What if emergency responders and health care workers received standardized training on autism? What if they had tools to help meet their needs?” It was the void outlined by these piercing questions that FAVE sought to fill.
Lauren approached her mentor at the Roanoke Regional SBDC, Tom Tanner, with the notebook, two decades of experience studying applied research on behavior, and no experience running a business. “The only way for me to get through my fear was to take the first step and learn as much as I could about starting a small business. I came to the SBDC where I have had the chance to not only learn about starting a small business, but also the chance to learn from the very best,” Lauren says. “Imagine Tom’s surprise when I told him my ‘business’ was to facilitate a new competitive market for individuals with communication and intellectual disabilities and to help businesses offer safe and valuable inclusive experiences!” Lauren exclaims.
“With the support of Tom and the SBDC, our amazing think tank members, area business leaders, and partnerships with organizations like Virginia Tech Center for Autism Research, we launched in December 2017,” Lauren says.
At FAVE, a “team of inclusion experts” works to incorporate research-based steps to develop easy, effective, and customizable solutions for people with disabilities. FAVE has trained “Inclusion Support Facilitator” groups from numerous county sheriff departments, two Domino’s franchises, and more. They have also partnered with a technology provider in Michigan to convert some of their trainings into an online management system.
Lauren credits Tom Tanner, Christina Garnett, Amanda Forrester, and the rest of the SBDC staff with helping FAVE break the barrier from science to business. They taught FAVE to craft a voice that maximizes visibility and appeals to their target market. “While we started FAVE with a passion to help families, we had to learn to change our voice to highlight and meet the needs of businesses,” Lauren explains.
It is hard to imagine that this burgeoning, people-driven enterprise began with a simple notebook and some hard questions. For Lauren, those same questions continue to push her and the FAVE team forward: “What if a family can go to dinner and a movie together for the first time in 10 years? What if businesses offered programs that brought together adults with disabilities? Imagine what would happen if we make this work.”