Starting a Small Business Amputee Business Owners Tell Their by ggw17295


									                               Starting a Small Business
 Amputee Business Owners Tell Their Stories and Offer Advice to Others
by Rick Bowers
                                                                                                         “I was always reminded of my amputation
Fred Pauloz, Deb Schiel and
                                                                                                         when I saw prosthetic parts lying around,”
Jean Boelter are all amputees
                                                                                                         she says. “It bothered me, and I just
who have taken the leap into the
                                                                                                         thought there ought to be a way not to be
exciting waters of small-business
                                                                                                         reminded all the time. I didn’t like having
entrepreneurship. Interestingly,
                                                                                                         everything on public display, and I didn’t
all three started their small busi-
                                                                                                         like having to hop to the bathroom or
nesses – Fred’s Legs, A • Spaces
                                                                                                         another room to get some of my prosthetic
and Amputeddy, Inc., respec-
tively – for the same reason:
They came up with a product
                                                                                                         She decided that a special cabinet to hold
that fulfilled their own need and
                                                                                                         all of her prosthetic parts and supplies was
then decided to pass it on to
                                                                                                         the answer.
other amputees.
                                                                                                         Though she had no cabinet-making
Fred’s Legs                                                        Fred, Joanne and their dog, Schultz
                                                                                                         background, she designed a cabinet to fit
Fred Pauloz, 39, lost his right leg
                                                      the same feeling, this may be something            her needs. “I made it so that it would fit
21 years ago as a result of a jeep
                                                      special.’”                                         on either side of my bed, and I used it to
                                                                                                         see how I would function with it.” She
                                                      Fred says the colorful sleeves are a great         also tried to imagine what amputees with
For 15 years after his accident, Fred wore
                                                      way to “break the ice” with people who             different types of amputations might need
neoprene suspension sleeves over his pros-
                                                      might not know how to act around an                and designed the cabinet to fit their needs
thesis. These sleeves, he says, had a bland
                                                      amputee.                                           as well.
color, became dirty, tore easily, and didn’t
look very good after several months.
                                                      This amazing response made the couple              Deb had a carpenter help her build the
                                                      think about turning their sleeve covers into       prototype. She then started A • Spaces in
“I just became so sick of looking at that,”
says Fred, who is now a certified/licensed             a business, and they started Fred’s Legs
                                                                                                          Deb with her cabinet
prosthetist.                                          in 1999 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, with
                                                      a credit card. They decided to call their
“Maybe we should cover it,” Fred’s wife,              sleeve covers SleeveArt.
Joanne, said of his prosthesis one day in
1998, and the “light bulbs” instantly went            The two are happy with what the business
on in their heads.                                    is doing for others. “SleeveArt is avail-
                                                      able to almost all amputees for a minimal
The two developed a prototype of a                    price and can help them feel much better
colorful sleeve to go over Fred’s prosthesis,         about themselves,” Fred says. “People who
and Fred started wearing it in public. The            were afraid to wear shorts because of what
response was shocking.                                people would say are now, all of a sudden,
                                                      going out in shorts and getting wonderful
“For the first 15 years I was an amputee,              comments. It’s certainly changing people’s
people never made any kind of remarks,                lives.”
but once I started wearing this colorful
sleeve, total strangers started stopping              A • Spaces
me every day!” Fred says. “They would                 Deb Schiel, 45, became a left above-knee
say, ‘Hey, that’s really cool; that looks             amputee in 2000 as a result of cancer.
really good.’ It gave me such a high that I           During her everyday life as an amputee,
thought, ‘If I can help other people have             she also discovered a problem that needed
                                                      to be addressed.
26    inMotion Volume 15, Issue 1 January/February 2005
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in early 2004 and                  After Jean’s mother died in 2001, Jean           receive payments from Social Security
began selling her cabinets.                              wanted to do something for her on                or Supplemental Security may be able to
                                                         Mother’s Day. “I made a teddy bear in her        increase their income and still keep these
It’s about wanting a normal environment,                 memory and gave it to my prosthetist,”           benefits as long as they stay within the
Deb says. If a person wouldn’t want to                   Jean says. “He loved it, and he wanted           programs’ income and asset requirements.
leave his or her clothes lying all over the              some for some patients, so my sister and I
house, why would he or she want to leave                 and some friends started making them for         Obstacles to starting a business, on the
prosthetic parts lying everywhere?                       him. And then we made them for friends           other hand, include the following:
                                                         and for friends of friends. We couldn’t keep       • Negative attitudes of the person
“It’s also psychological,” she says. “My cabi-           up with the orders so we just decided that           with the disability or others
net gave my privacy back to me. It gave me               we would invest in a business. We decided          • Discrimination
back my dignity.”                                        that if we didn’t sell them, we would just         • Problems obtaining capital
                                                         give them away.”                                   • Poor credit
Amputeddy, Inc.                                                                                             • Lack of collateral
Jean Boelter was born with a blood tumor                 Jean started Amputeddy in Seattle,                 • Lack of knowledge about business
on her foot that frequently became                       Washington, and incorporated the business          • The risk of losing money and time
infected. When it became badly infected                  a little over a year ago.                            if the business fails
at age 5, however, she had to have her leg                                                                  • Erratic income
amputated below the knee.                                The teddy bears, she says, are mostly              • Possible loss of health insurance if
                                                         bought as gifts. One was given to a little           they leave their regular job
“One night when I was grown, my 12-year-                 boy who lost his arm, Jean says. “The little       • Inability to obtain bonding or
old niece, Katie Policani, was telling me                guy hadn’t been able to sleep alone at all           insurance
about everybody having teddy bears,” Jean                until he got his teddy bear, but he hasn’t         • Lack of coordination among federal
says, “and I said that I didn’t have one. She            been awake one night since.”                         programs
was stunned, and a couple of weeks later,                                                                   • Possible loss of Social Security,
I got this little teddy bear from her in the             That alone makes the business worthwhile,            Supplemental Security, healthcare
mail without a leg. It had a toilet paper                she says.                                            or housing benefits.
roll for a prosthesis, and she had cut some
blond hair off one of her dolls and had                  Why Amputees Start                               Despite these barriers, people with dis-
sewn that to the head.”                                  Businesses                                       abilities are almost twice as likely as others
                                                         Amputees may decide to start a business          to be self-employed – and they seem to be
Jean was delighted with the teddy bear and               for a variety of reasons. Some may want          good at it. The Abilities Fund lists several
made a pattern for a similar amputee bear.               flexibility in their work hours. Others may       traits of people with disabilities that may
Then, she and her mother made hundreds                   want to ensure that they have a working          make them more likely to succeed in busi-
and gave them away as gifts.                             environment that accommodates their              ness. They include the ability to problem-
                                                         disability. Some may have experienced            solve, persistence, and the ability to adapt
                                                                                discrimination in         (See
                                                                                the workplace. And        entrepreneurs_with_disabilities.php for
                                                                                others may merely         more details).
                                                                                be looking for extra
                                                                                income.                   Lessons Learned
                                                                                                          Fred, Deb and Jean all learned valuable les-
                                                                               Most will quickly          sons while running their businesses. They
                                                                               learn, however,            wanted to share the following tips with
                                                                               that there are both        other amputees who would like to start a
                                                                               benefits and barriers       business, especially one aimed at amputee
                                                                               to starting a busi-        consumers:
                                                                               ness when you have
                                                                                                          1. Be prepared to work for a year or
                                                                               a disability. The
                                                                                                          more before you realize a profit.
                                                                               freedom of setting
                                                                               your own hours and         2. Start with the Small Business
Katie Policani (left) and her children deliver donated                         not having to struggle     Administration (SBA). None of these
Amputeddies to a children’s hospital. (Also pictured     with mobility problems to get to work,           entrepreneurs took full advantage of the
is rehab nurse Jean Johnson.)                            for example, are great benefits. Moreover,        SBA, although Fred and Joanne did take
                                                         some entrepreneurs with disabilities who         some courses from the organization.
                                                                                               To support the ACA or to become a member, call 1-888/267-5669   27
                                                         In the beginning, Deb had no assistance, but in the last few
                                                         months, she contacted them. “There’s free funding, free attorney
                                                         funding, and it’s a free service,” she says, wishing she had con-
                                                         tacted them earlier.
                                                         3. Make your business known to other amputees. “I’m more
                                                         likely to buy from other amputees and to support them in what
                                                         they are doing,” Jean says. Other amputees probably feel the same,
                                                         she thinks.
                                                         4. Set up a Web site, and trade links with other Web sites.
                                                         5. Take advantage of the Amputee Coalition of America’s
                                                         Annual Educational Conference & Exposition and other
                                                         conferences to make contacts and show your product.
                                                         6. Do direct marketing by sending information and samples
                                                         to prosthetists and prosthetic manufacturing companies.
                                                         7. Advertise in the Technology Showcase in inMotion. “The
                                                         Tech Showcase is the best place for an amputee to try to introduce
                                                         a product because it’s marketed to the amputee,” says Fred. “If you
                                                         have a daily product or trick you use, why not share it with other
                                                         people. It may be something that catches on and everybody else
                                                         says, ‘Yeah, that can help me!’” Fred’s Legs keeps advertising, Fred
                                                         says, because “out of sight, out of mind.”
                                                         8. Talk to other amputees. It’s interesting what you will learn
                                                         from other amputees about what they have discovered about your
                                                         product or their needs in the privacy of their own home, Fred says.
                                                         9. Don’t forget to check into tax deductions for a
                                                         home office.
                                                         10. Don’t give up on an idea just because others think it’s
                                                         not a good idea. They might be wrong. 

                                                         For more information:
                                                         Fred’s Legs
                                                         A • Spaces
                                                         Amputeddy, Inc.
                                                         Small Business Administration
                                                         Small Business and Self-Employment Service
                                                         The Abilities Fund
                                                         Advertising Policy
                                                         The views expressed in inMotion do not necessarily reflect those of the Amputee Coalition
                                                         of America or the National Limb Loss Information Center, nor does inMotion endorse any
                                                         specific technology, company or device.

28   inMotion Volume 15, Issue 1 January/February 2005

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