Business Development - Disabled Entrepreneurs
Rogue Gallart, president of the Central Florida Disability Chamber, helps Robert “Robby” Sedlak create a business plan for his cement company. The chamber plans to expand statewide. [Photo: Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel/MCT]
Peter Schoemann, an attorney with Broad and Cassel in Orlando, founded the Central Florida Disability Chamber two years ago to assist entrepreneurs with disabilities, whether that meant helping with a business plan or finding financing for a venture that could make someone self-sufficient.
Ayla Topgul, 62, a seamstress disabled by shoulder pain and foot problems, is one of the dozen entrepreneurs the Disability Chamber has helped. Last summer, she opened a sewing and alterations shop in Casselberry. “They were phenomenal. The chamber was there every step of the way,” says daughter Ayda Topgul, who works with her mother at Angora Design. Her mother, she says, has regained self-confidence and now has a better chance of remaining independent.
Inspired by its successes, the chamber is now expanding its scope. Last year, it received certification from the Florida Department of Education allowing it to develop business plans and provide counseling and other services to clients with funding through the department’s vocational rehabilitation program. The chamber will also provide guidance to non-profits in other states that want to launch similar programs.
To identify and serve clients, the chamber also has developed partnerships and membership-sharing agreements with other organizations, such as the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The chamber, which offers its services at no cost to clients, is housed in the Disney Entrepreneur Center, which is scheduled to move from downtown Orlando to the Fashion Square Mall in April.
Schoemann’s own life provided inspiration for the initiative by giving him insight into what disabled people can do — he has two young sons with autism. Many disabled people, he says, need only a little help to run their own businesses. Most, he says, want to be self-sufficient. “That’s the goal and the focus,” he says, “to get them off the benefit rolls and onto the tax rolls.”
As for his own children: “They’ve come a long way,” he says, with every expectation now of being productive and successful members of society.