Networking

Inreturn Strategies find Disabled Professionals their Perfect Match

Inreturn Strategies connects employers to disabled professionals with help from the Archer Foundation.

Getting a good idea off the ground is like nurturing a seed to full bloom. It starts out well enough but needs the nourishment and resources to flourish.

Jim Atwater had a good idea, and thanks to Kansas City’s Archer Foundation, he expects it to blossom in 2014.

Atwater founded Inreturn Strategies, a software technology company that strategically matches employers to people with disabilities in need of a job. Atwater’s company targets businesses that are committed to hiring people with physical and intellectual disabilities and need an efficient, reliable way to access the talent pool. Specifically, Inreturn Strategies provides a central platform to help companies hire disabled talent to scale and ultimately increase profitability.

“The average time people with disabilities spend in the employment line is 18 to 24 months,” Atwater points out.

“Traditionally, they’ve been out of sight, out of mind,” he continues. “It was always a social cause in the past. Today, all of that is shifting, and the Archer Foundation is helping move our company forward.”

Through its work with entrepreneurs, volunteers and local leaders, the Archer Foundation connects people with opportunities to improve their lives. Committed to paying it forward in Kansas City, the nonprofit promotes business growth and active community service.

The Archer Foundation primarily supports technology-based businesses and entrepreneurs focused on Web, mobile and social innovation. This includes other nonprofits that provide education, career training and critical services to people in need of new opportunities.

The organization’s Get Started program is an immersion opportunity for entrepreneurs. It’s designed to help early-stage companies build clarity, create value and execute their vision. Dedicated to Kansas City entrepreneurs who are engaged full time in building their businesses, the Archer Foundation provides the support they need to thrive and launch the business into full swing.

Atwater learned of the Archer Foundation from a colleague suggesting he explore its resources. This past November, Atwater began working with the Archer Foundation where he receives a number of professional resources, including workspace, strategy and delivery, administrative and marketing support, branding, etc., for a tenth of the price it would cost him to do it all on his own.

“The Archer Foundation is exactly what a startup needs, especially if you have just one person,” Atwater says. “They have a team helping you get from point A to point B. They help you get to the same point over and over again until you can do it on your own.”

In just the first two weeks, the Archer Foundation helped Inreturn Strategies redesign all its branding and sales presentation material—much faster than Atwater would have been able to accomplish on his own, he says. It provides complimentary business assessments and then assigns entrepreneurs a fee based on their needs, whether it’s a complete program package, per session or hourly. Office space is based on a per-seat basis and can range from $150 per month per seat for a kitchen table space to $400 per seat, monthly for a lab.

Atwater, a hearing-impaired business leader himself, brings a unique understanding to the challenges businesses and the disabled face together. For the last four years, he has forged relationships with public, private and social-sector leaders across the country committed to employing Inreturn Strategies’ solutions. Unlike current social and supply-driven approaches that require companies to open a thousand doors to find disabled talent, Inreturn Strategies provides a single point of entry in which companies can integrate disabled employees into their organization at scale and realize the full potential of this resource pool.

“If you have a family member with a disability, one of the challenges you are faced with is what to do to find employment for that person,” Atwater says. “Unfortunately, the choices are very limited. There are a lot of people with disabilities who want to work. They just need to connect with businesses. Nobody wants to be a charity.”

In fact, 70 percent of people with disabilities are currently unemployed, Atwater says. Conversely, he adds, statistics show that hiring people with a physical or intellectual disability can positively impact a company’s bottom line. Consider the fact that there is 48 percent less turnover, 73 percent less time-off expense and a 20 percent increase in productivity in employees with a disability than those without, he notes. Additionally, depending upon disability type, companies that hire employees with a disability are eligible for a $4,000 to $6,000 tax incentive per hire. “Businesses realize the value of hiring people with disabilities,” Atwater says. “Walgreens and AMC have done very well with this.”

In fact, Walgreens’ disability outreach began in 2002 when Randy Lewis—who served as the company’s senior vice president of supply chain and logistics at the time—initiated an idea to transform a new warehouse in Anderson, S.C., into a disability-friendly space by switching from text-based to image-based equipment. Its 2007 launch was so successful that Walgreens then built the Windsor center, where roughly half of the staff has a physical or intellectual disability. The Windsor center is now the company’s safest, most productive warehouse. Across Walgreens’s 21 distribution centers, 10 percent of its employees are disabled, and it hopes to increase that number to 20 percent.

Likewise, AMC actively hires people with disabilities for an array of jobs. The local theater giant began recruiting workers with disabilities in 2009, launching a pilot program in collaboration with the Autism Society. Since that time, the program has expanded and gained additional partners.

“There’s a gap between demand (business needs) and supply (people with disabilities with the right skill set),” Atwater points out. “So often companies look at what people can’t do. This population is very valuable in what they can do. But again, how do we connect the two? I’ve met with hundreds of CEOs and human resources people and they’re trying very hard to do the right thing, but it’s difficult to accomplish.”

On the flip side, Atwater has met with dozens of nonprofit agencies that provide job assistance to people with disabilities. Nearly all of these agencies have their own efforts to find jobs for their clients and are reaching out directly to employers. Unfortunately, they aren’t always equipped with the marketing and sales know-how to make effective connections. A better matching system—like that with Inreturn Strategies’ technology—will make it easier for businesses to identify the skillset they need and partner with these agencies, Atwater says. If done right, demand will drive hiring; businesses will seek people out instead of having them pushed on them.

Inreturn Strategies’ matching technology will be subscription based much like the social network LinkedIn, Atwater says. This year, Inreturn Strategies will conduct a beta testing period with a limited number of corporate partners in a controlled set of markets (Kansas City among them) in the first and second quarters of 2014.

“We’re helping businesses do the right thing, which they already want to do,” Atwater says. “In 2014, there shouldn’t be a 70 percent unemployment rate among people with disabilities. It just shouldn’t be this hard. We want to move that needle…we want to get businesses over the hump. Ultimately, this effort won’t just drive social capital. It will positively impact a company’s bottom line.”

Story by Susan Fotovich McCabe