By Carolyn D. Cowen
If you were lucky enough to attend the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) 2016 conference kickoff on October 26 in Orlando, you witnessed serial entrepreneurs Rick Fiery and Tom Bergeron receiving this year’s “IDA Excellence in Leadership Award.” You also heard the duo—co-founders of InventiveLabs[i]—talk about their pitch competition, which they are launching with support from founding sponsor, Microsoft.
In pitch competitions, aspiring entrepreneurs go head-to-head to pitch original business ideas for the chance to win cash awards and supportive professional services. Win or lose, these competitions are an opportunity to sharpen ideas and make important connections.
Bergeron and Fiery have conceptualized their pitch competition with a twist—would-be entrepreneurs (or members of the pitch team) must have a learning difference! This is not some kind of affirmative-action program for people with learning challenges. Bergeron and Fiery believe that they are making a smart bet. Why?
Bergeron and Fiery have conceptualized their pitch competition with a twist—would-be entrepreneurs (or members of the pitch team) must have a learning difference!
In a 2009 survey of entrepreneurs conducted by Cass Business School (Logan), 35% of the participants identified themselves as having traits consistent with dyslexia. A 2002 Fortune Magazine cover story (Morris), “The Dyslexic CEO” featured four so-called “dead-end kids” (Richard Branson, Charles Schwab, John Chambers, and David Boise) who, despite difficulty learning to read, went on to become hugely successful.
These and other observations have persuaded many within business and learning differences communities that there is an unusually high representation of people with dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and mild autism spectrum disorder (ASD) among the talented, out-of-the-box-thinking archetype—a trait often prized in entrepreneurial settings.[ii]
Young Entrepreneurs with Learning Differences to Pitch Ideas
The InventiveLabs pitch competition is a chance for young adults with learning challenges (e.g., dyslexia, ADHD, ASD) to pitch entrepreneurial ideas to representatives from multiple angel investment groups and to compete for a cash prize and the following:
- Legal services to assist with company formation and structure
- Trademark and intellectual property protection
- Tax coaching and filing
- Marketing support
- Time management and organization consulting
- Graphic design services
- Software and cloud services.
Fiery and Bergeron’s passion to foster talent in young entrepreneurs with learning differences and help them find and pursue their own passions led the duo to launch InventiveLabs in 2014. Think business incubator meets gap year meets directed alternative to college and you get the idea. InventiveLabs’ three programs—Pitch Competition, Signature Program, and Gap Year Experience—are small, “high-touch,” and infused with a strong dose of acceptance, mentorship, guidance, and support. (The Signature Program and Gap Year Experience are stand-alone programs, but they alsocan help prepare for the Pitch Competition.)
InventiveLabs’ co-founders aim to make a difference in the lives of young, out-of-the-box thinkers, whom they call Inventives, by helping them explore career paths and translate passion into livelihood. As Bergeron said, “We attract smart candidates who want to collaborate or work on their own to start a company, prepare for a job, or just find direction and return to school.”
Fiery added, “We’ve received a lot of emails from parents who say just knowing there’s an alternative out there relaxes their kids who are struggling in school and gives them hope and peace of mind … and those things can be key to unleashing creativity.”
Watch for Results of the Pitch Competition
If you missed Bergeron and Fiery’s talk at the IDA conference or want to learn more about their creative venture to foster the entrepreneurial spirit and strengths of people with learning challenges, you are in luck. We plan to tell the unfolding story of the pitch competition in a series of Examiner articles—one this winter as the program gets underway and another later in the spring at the conclusion of the competition.
These articles will feature some of the young adults whose entrepreneurial visions might wind up making a difference in all our lives. We’ll share some of their ideas, chronicle their quest to win the pitch completion, discuss the support InventiveLabs provides along the way, and report on the outcome of the competition.
Meanwhile, go to InventiveLabs.org and their press release to learn more. Also check out Rick Fiery’s TEDx talk, “Necessary Brilliance.” Finally, if you know someone who might be interested in the pitch program, the deadline to apply is December 30.
Logan, J. (2009). Dyslexia entrepreneurs: The incidence, their coping strategies, and their
business skills. Dyslexia, 15(2), 328–346. doi.org/10.1002/dys.388
Morris, B. (2002, May 13). Overcoming dyslexia. Fortune Magazine.
 InventiveLabs is a social enterprise. Social enterprises apply commercial strategies for social good—social mission is as central to the success of a social enterprise as profit.
 Any discussion about a possible upside to dyslexia, ADHD, or ASD must include the sobering reminder that for every celebrity or millionaire with these conditions and championing their benefits, thousands struggle with the harsh consequences of being square pegs attempting to shoehorn themselves into the round holes of traditional school and workplace settings.
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