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The disabled entrepreneur

_COMMUNITY / THE DISABLED ENTREPRENEUR

If I did not become disabled in my late teens, I would not be the founder of four companies, an equity partner in another, and vice president of one more. I am a 24-year-old Brit based in Los Angeles. But before COVID-19, I would have told you I was based on an airplane. I used to travel a lot, flying to England, Asia, Canada, France, and so many more places for entrepreneurial endeavors and advocating opportunities.

I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur and never even knew what it was until someone called me one! I was terrible in school, although very creative, but 'very creative' is not the type of intelligence the school system wants you to have. For reasons I will never quite understand I was bullied horribly, and from that point on I decided school was not for me. I left early and took to regular dance class. Ballet taught me discipline, dedication, and perseverance. Tap taught me to listen, and hip-hop taught me freedom. When I was 16, I moved to London, away from my family home in West Sussex, where my parents ran a racehorse yard, and from a young age I was witness to the highs and lows of having your own company. I started training full-time at a prestigious dance college. It was a dream come true until I started to feel unwell.

I was hospitalized for malnutrition and dehydration. After fighting to get the right tests, I had an operation that went wrong. Eight operations later and a fair share of trauma, I finally had the surgery that saved my life and changed it completely. During hospitalization I was in a state of depression, feeling hopeless and left behind. At that time someone asked me, “What could you give?” That simple sentence inspired me to connect with other people I could relate to. I shared my story of misdiagnosis, and similarly to when I found a home with like-minded individuals at dance, I had found solace and people who 'got it' in the disabled community.

Eager to get back into the entertainment industry, but still unable to do much more than get out of bed, I started working as a talent agent representing artists. I founded my first company with a talent pool of over 100 actors. As I recovered, going back to college was not an option. I soon found myself on my way to Los Angeles and founded my second company, C Talent.

“I think entrepreneurship comes naturally for someone with a disability, as both require strong leadership skills, the ability to adapt, emotional intelligence, patience, empathy, sacrifice, and the capability to fight.”

– Keely Cat Wells

After being privy to ableism and prejudice, C Talent started solely representing D/deaf and Disabled artists, smashing stereotypes daily! C Talent was a recipient of a Red Backpack Fund grant from The Spanx by Sara Blakely Foundation, and I have been named one of Aerie's Top 20 Change-Makers, gaining C Talent corporate sponsorship from American Eagle Outfitters.

I continued to see the lack of access, diversity, and inclusion in the industry, which led to the birth of Zetta Studios. Zetta is to be the world’s first film & TV studio that is fully accessible for disabled people, sustainable, and, founded by a woman. In a world that was not made for us in mind, I want to build infrastructure with us at the heart of it. That will set a new standard for employers and build a new inclusive landscape. The venture has been referred to as “The Silicon Valley of Entertainment”.

When you think of a gatekeeper or studio executive, a non-disabled, straight, middle-aged, white man probably comes to mind. Although the business is slowly diversifying, there is so much work to be done, and we must have more marginalized voices as CEOs and gatekeepers, so access and inclusion are not a second thought, a box that needs to be ticked, or an unvoiced conversation. Inclusion in the workplace needs to come from integrity as well as opportunity. We need leaders to care not just because their customers and employees do but because they do, too.

My disabilities have impacted and shaped my life in the most beautiful ways. They have shown me business acumen, and have been a secret weapon in boardrooms. I think entrepreneurship comes naturally for someone with a disability, as both require strong leadership skills, the ability to adapt, emotional intelligence, patience, empathy, sacrifice, and the capability to fight.

I believe that to change the world we have to learn to tell and listen to a new set of stories about the world that we want to create, with authentic voices behind those stories in a truly inclusive and accessible workspace.

Please share your adventures with us at share@juniperunltd.com
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