Boaz and Minerva Santiago are the founders of Picasso Einstein, an educational consulting firm solely focused on self-employment for persons with disabilities. They are parents to two boys on the autism spectrum. Based on the work typically offered to persons with autism, they knew that traditional employment would be challenging and lack meaning for their sons. So, at the early age of 11 and 13, they have their boys explore, learn about, and begin to develop small business ideas that will serve as meaningful sources of employment. Picasso Einstein stems from their family’s journey. They want to help create jobs that are meaningful and sustainable for all.
Why choose self-employment?
- Self-Employment teaches in the NOW as opposed to the NOT NOW.
We have found that people with developmental disabilities mostly think and live in the NOW. When they are taught something that they cannot put into immediate practice, the learning objectives are lost. Self-employment, on the other hand, allows a person to learn financial literacy, communication skills, the need to socialize (to sell your product and make money) and other important life skills. You don’t have to wait until someone is old enough to get a traditional job—these can be learned during the “transition” years through self-employment.
One parent, who had a 12-year daughter with developmental disabilities, doubted that her daughter would be interested or even understand self-employment. Well, not only was her daughter interested, but because the business involves something she’s interested in, she was motivated to understand everything!
Today, her daughter runs a successful business selling customized wands (a product based on her own sensory needs). This young girl is aware of how money changes her options, her life, her future. She is highly interested in socializing, communicating and integrating into her community so she can sell her products. Think about it. This young lady and her parents, will never see the “transition cliff” of employment.
- Self-Employment is most sustainable when it is intrinsically connected to the person.
One young man took our course with heightened apprehension from both of his parents. He struggled with language, communication, reading, and many skills. Yet, he did not struggle at all with the things he enjoyed.
We spent time with him looking at google images, providing him with an alternative means of expressing his desires and wants. When we shared with his parents that in addition to photos of sneakers, he often looked at photos of food trucks, they dismissed it as simply his pleasure of eating at food truck gatherings.
His parents, both very well educated (a journalist & Neurosurgeon), had many ideas of their own for his potential business. They knew their son loved sneakers but they struggled to see how that could make money. They met with their team and came up with business ideas for their son. BUT, they did not include him in those meetings.
Not surprising, their son’s reaction to their ideas was negative. Why? Because he had an idea of his own: A Mobile sneaker store using a food truck model. Today, “Sneakin-Around” (a name he came up with) is the first ever, high-end mobile retail sneaker store in South Florida. Their son is fully engaged in the business because it is connected to his internal motivation. Now that is sustainable in our books!
In addition to your job creator program, you launched Trailblazing2016. What was your vision for the event?
Trailblazing 2016 was born out of a brief conversation between us and a parent who graduated from our Picasso Einstein Project Family Program. Our mutual interest was creating an event to highlight how innovation and technology play key roles in how business relates to disabilities and vice versa.
Can you share a few highlights of what happened at the 2016 event?
Trailblazing 2016 showcased innovative local entrepreneurs with disabilities. We focused on self-employment as a viable option for all persons with disabilities. We featured companies like SAP who are hiring persons with autism. For them, it’s not about charity but simply good business practice.
Organizations like Palisades Hudson Financial Group & Broward Score shared practical ways for budding entrepreneurs with disabilities. They discussed ways to fund their business ventures through crowd funding or finding social capitalists who want to invest in businesses that have a positive impact on society.
Lastly, Trailblazing 2016 provided a platform for companies like WIX and organizations like FAAST to demonstrate why “Universal Design” is not about creating technology to assist solely persons with disabilities, but instead, technology that is useful for all people.
Who were some of your panelists and what did they discuss?
Our three keynote speakers included Shira Galler, from New York, representing WIX. Together, WIX and Picasso Einstein have come up with a program called “WIX 4 Life” that allows individuals with disabilities, interested in self-employment to apply for a FREE WIX Premium account for the life of the business!
Our very special guest, friend and keynote speaker was Jose Hugo Velasco, the Global Lead of the “Autism at Work” initiative at SAP. He is a father to two children with autism. He shared how SAP has found business value in hiring persons with autism. The company is also helping other organizations like Microsoft & HP to implement similar initiatives, globally.
Our third and final keynote speaker was Dr. Harold “Hackie” Reitman, father, producer and director of the movie “The Square Root of 2.” The movie is about a young girl challenged with undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome who leaves her overprotective parents for the freedom of college. Hackie is also founder of “DifferentBrains.org” a web hub full of videos and interviews focused on neurodiversity.
Who were your “blazers” and what have they accomplished?
Our “blazers” are the people with disabilities who have created jobs for themselves. Their businesses vary from custom wooden puzzles, deejay services, “junk flipping” (buying items from garage sales and selling them online) to Italian ices sold only at night using glow-in-the-dark cups.
What were you hoping to accomplish at this first event of its kind? Did you accomplish it?
We kept our goals simple. We hoped people would find the premise of the event valuable enough to show up and, when they did, they were happy they made the decision to attend.
Share a proud moment or attendee feedback.
Our two proud moments were wonderful panel discussions with two young entrepreneurs. Tathi Piancastelli, is a young Brazilian playwright, actress & model who happens to have Down syndrome. Shawn Smith, is a Canadian entrepreneur and founder of “Don’t Dis-my-Ability” who lives with ADHD. Both of these presenters personify the level of innovation that individuals with disabilities bring to the business table.
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