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Minal Patel, Co-founder and COO of sustainable tech start up LabCycle explains how gaining success with a growing business while living with a disability has challenged and enriched her entrepreneurial journey
The entrepreneurial journey can be taxing with its high pressure and fast paced nature, with the addition of a disability, this tax is higher. My unseen disability is a part of my definition, an integral part of my enriching entrepreneurial journey. No entrepreneurs journey is linear: resilience and determination are key skills for a successful entrepreneur, these are second nature for those living with a disability. Despite this, I still face barriers, reaching for opportunities is key to growth however at times there can be a disconnect with my mind and body. Where my mind races ahead but body is unable to keep up due to the chronic illness, which can be very frustrating, and sometimes impedes the growth of the business. I am fortunate and grateful to be a part of an amazing co-founding team, Helen Liang and Colin Francis. Being neurodivergent does have its advantages, for example it can bring increased productivity, unique perspectives, creativity and solution-based thinking.
With disability you already have reduced employment opportunities because there’s only certain hours that you can work, mobility constraints and other barriers. The entrepreneurial lifestyle allows productivity to happen at any time of day so if managed correctly it does provide great flexibility for me and others in the community. The transition to virtual/remote events post pandemic has been a great positive and increased accessibility for me.
Every entrepreneur’s time is a commodity but when you have a disability your time and energy are finite. The Spoon Theory is popular within the chronic illness ‘spoonies’ community as an analogy of what it is like to live with a chronic illness or disability. It perfectly describes the idea of limited energy, using “spoons” to represent finite units of energy. Being honest, communicating clearly and to being vulnerable about my limitations is not easy but it is essential because no one can read your mind; this has contributed to the rapid growth of LabCycle. I am meticulous with how I plan things and have better attention to detail, because I don’t have the privilege of abundant energy, or endless amounts of ‘spoons’ at my disposal.
Living with a disability has undoubtedly added to my entrepreneurial journey. It’s really given me a different perspective on how manage my business in terms of inclusion, work-life balance and how to work smarter. It has enhanced my emotional intelligence greatly, which has been extremely beneficial with expanding my network and building connections. Everybody goes through different things at different stages in their life, and business owner or not, they intertwine. In my opinion having a disability is a bonus, it can be extremely challenging but that’s what makes you more resilient. In the same way that I find tools to adapt to my life with a disability, I apply the same thinking to find ways to adapt to whatever’s next in the business. My journey is ongoing, and I relish future challenges to come.
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