Most people would likely guess that universal accessibility is not today’s reality – but most people wouldn’t have a grasp on the magnitude of the issue.  Things are set up for the able-bodied majority (or TABs in Stan’s parlance, the Temporarily Able Bodied), its just the way it has always been. From stairs to sloped sidewalks to raised door stops, barriers to accessibility in the built environment are real, they are significant, and they can go unnoticed by those of us who don’t have to contend with them – not yet anyway.

Stan Leyenhorst is an entrepreneur, a person who has worked in industries related to the built environment for years, and who has become an expert in universally accessible design working with the Rick Hansen Foundation. In the world of accessibility educating and consulting Stan has another attribute that won’t show up on his business’ balance sheet – lived experience. Stan has been accumulating experience with living in an inaccessible built environment since he became paralyzed from the chest down in an accident when he was 16.

Stan’s business, Universal Access Design or UAD, provides accessibility audit, design, and training services. Stan’s been providing similar services to large organizations for years – helping to improve the accessibility of their slice of the built environment. Stan works to improve accessibility of course because of its intrinsic value, and he aims that UAD be financially sustainable while doing it as a result. He doesn’t shy away from putting UAD’s value proposition in economic terms rather than social ones either. As Stan put simply ‘when we can provide access to everyone, everyone can get in and invest their resources. Accessibility is not only achievable and cost possible, but it is economically preferable.’

UAD as a Social Venture for Development at Urban Matters CCC
The obvious criteria were met – UAD had a social dividend, UAD’s product was already proven, and in Stan there was an experienced and credible accessibility consultant to deliver the services. The social impact and Stan’s credibility and experience were critical, the proven product brought down the risk; but what really sold us was Stan’s entrepreneurialism and the alignment between UAD’s services offerings and the assets and credibility of the Urban network.

In our view at Urban Matters CCC it’s not enough to have a social innovator at the helm of a social venture, we need social entrepreneurs. What’s the difference? We’re in the business of Applied Social Innovation, and when it comes to Social Venture Development that means creating sustainable social businesses – and the business part isn’t optional. As we’ve all heard time and again, building a business is hard work and can be unforgiving. The same is true for social ventures, perhaps even more so. Changing the world, sustainably, is heavy lifting.

Stan’s approach to the communicating the value of accessibility can give you a glimpse in to this entrepreneurialism. Stan sees the opportunity in UAD, both for social impact and for financial return. This is where market based solutions can thrive, and a profit motive beside the social motive can be what’s needed to keep the impact scaling.

UAD works in the built environment, and with Urban Matters’ connections to Urban Systems, there are opportunities for mutually beneficial learning, networking, and partnering. This alignment puts Urban Matters CCC in a strong position to mobilize a wealth of non-financial resources to support UAD in scaling its reach.

Launching and Scaling UAD
Once we found a great opportunity with Stan and UAD, all that was left to do was all the hard stuff, actually launching the business and starting to scale it. Getting ready for the launch of UAD included all the boring things that turn out to be absolutely critical, but the things that an entrepreneur doesn’t have to be good at – if they have help.

Like what? This included things like establishing a basic start up cash flow so Stan could live and take care of his family during the launch phase, finding and equipping a space, and putting in place the back end systems and processes that keep a business running – accounting, communications, marketing, etc. That said, for the same reason you wouldn’t care to read about it, this can be some of our most important support services, letting entrepreneurs like Stan focus on their areas of expertise.

The scaling of UAD is where the Urban Matters CCC team is really expecting to deliver unique value – leveraging our deep networks through Urban Systems connectivity with a range of potential clients. With networks so entrenched in planning, design, and engineering of the built environment, opportunities are huge for partnering on projects and contributing to Stan’s sales flow. Already Stan has travelled to Urban Systems offices across Western Canada to introduce UAD and its service offering, introductions that have been met with enthusiasm and immediate support as the need for universal access design becomes clearer, and as the opportunities for partnering crystalize. This type of collaboration is already getting started, with Urban Matters working on putting a package of services together for accessibility planning for municipalities – stakeholder engagement, and facilitation delivered by Urban Matters’ Advisory Services, accessibility expertise delivered by UAD, and Urban Systems bringing urban planning and engineering expertise – one example of a rich social and economic partnering opportunity.

Why We’re Excited
In many ways UAD and our work with it can be taken as evidence of the opportunity our Social Venture Development practice aims to action: first, there are opportunities out there for social ventures to deliver social returns, as well as economic returns for both society and the social entrepreneurs, and second, there are underutilized social impact assets out there – physical assets, networks, as-yet unformed partnerships, and far more – that we have barely even begun to identify, or to understand the opportunity they provide.

For more information:
Ken Gauthier, Social Entrepreneur and President. kgauthier@urbanmatters.ca
Jerome Lengkeek, Social Finance Lead. jlengkeek@urbanmatters.ca
Stan Leyenhorst, UAD Owner. stan@uadi.ca

 

 

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