Business: SMILE Biscotti, LLC
Mission: Skills development, social connections and pathways toward greater independence
What is SMILE?
SMILE (Supporting My Independent Living Enterprise) trains, employs and supports adults on the autism spectrum in an effort to further their growth, happiness and independence. Co-workers mix, bake, package and distribute biscotti across the U.S. SMILE also engages family volunteers to produce delicious handmade biscotti in a variety of flavors. The biscotti are sold online as well as in more than a dozen retail outlets in the Phoenix area and nationwide.
SMILE has been featured in a number of media outlets as an example of how persons on the spectrum can develop skills, make social connections and promote their independence through meaningful employment opportunities.
SMILE Biscotti are frequently purchased for special events, holiday gifts and meetings where the hosts and participants want to demonstrate their support for SMILE’s mission.
Why did you feel that starting your own business was the answer?
While possessing many skills, our son and others like him face challenges in the relatively “uncontrolled” competitive work environment. By creating our business with a sensitivity to sensory and other issues, we are presenting an environment where their skills can flourish. At this point, we’re confident many of SMILE’s workers will thrive in a greater variety of work settings, opening doors to more options.
Is this a solo operation for your child or do you also employ others with autism or special needs?
We employ and/or train a number of persons with autism and special needs.
What are 3 challenges you’ve faced?
- Starting a new business in a field where we have no experience.
- Selling a niche product.
- Keeping our cost per biscotti down is challenging because we use a labor intensive process while our competitors rely on automation.
Training our employees and having them perform flawlessly has NOT been one of our challenges. They are terrific!
What are 3 rewards you’ve experienced from starting a business?
- Watching our son, Matt, and others develop complete confidence in their contributions to the business.
- Seeing how much happiness our product and story gives to others who previously had a dismal view of the prospects for adults on the spectrum.
- Knowing that these young adults are finding their place as productive members of society.
Share a memorable moment!
When we realized that our son Matt, who is largely non-verbal, and his co-worker Slade, who is non-verbal, were communicating ways to improve our packing process and actively helping each other become more efficient.
Any exciting news?
PBS NewsHour released two segments this month featuring SMILE, First Place AZ, SARRC and the supportive community of greater Phoenix. They rank among the most popular by PBS NewsHour for the year!
- Giving adults with autism the skills to build independent lives – Watch Video
- How Phoenix became the most autism-friendly city in the world – Watch Video
*EDITOR’S NOTE: I met the Resnik family at the Autism Society National Conference in New Orleans. What they are doing is so noteworthy. They are role models for what you can create for your child and others on the spectrum. It’s not an easy undertaking but they made it happen. I could see how happy and proud Matt was about his business. The Resniks are working on licensing opportunities to help other families start their own SMILE’s. Make sure that you get on their mailing list.
*EDITOR’S NOTE: Support SMILE by buying some Biscotti. I tried both flavors and they are yummy. I gave a bag to my Italian mother-in-law who knows her biscotti and she agreed…they are delicious! I also love the branding—each shipment comes with a personalized note from a SMILE employee along with information about autism.