'Tipping point': Disability support start-ups are coming of age
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'Tipping point': Disability support start-ups are coming of age

Australia's carer and disability start-up space is enjoying unprecedented momentum, and AbleFinder co-founder Summer Elizabeth is ready for action.

"We‘re quite confident about having 100,000 families globally using our platform, and we are the first platform like this for children with disabilities," she says.

The co-founders of AbleFinder, a social media platform for families of children with disabilities.

The co-founders of AbleFinder, a social media platform for families of children with disabilities.Credit:Suppllied

Along with co-founder Andrius Petrosius, she has spent the past year speaking to hundreds of families across the world to build a dedicated tech offering to connect families of young people with disabilities with others facing similar experiences.

Having taken part in the Remarkable accelerator program, the duo have bootstrapped efforts by pouring their free time into the business, set to formally launch in two months. Aside from $35,000 in seed funding from Remarkable, no other cash has gone into the start-up.

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Elizabeth, who developed a chronic condition in her teens, has seen first hand the need for families to connect with others who can relate to their situation.

AbleFinder believes it has timed things perfectly for a run this year, as families increasingly look to technology as a first port of call to find carers, friends and support through disability communities.

Reaching scale

The global assistive technologies market, which includes everything from mobility technology to healthcare management apps and carer tech, is set to be worth $US37.6 billion ($51.9 billion) by 2023, according to Allied Market Research.

For the Australian market, the real change is that businesses working with families of those with disabilities are starting to reach scale.

"It's about people not being so overwhelmed [when looking for support]," co-founder of Clickability, Aviva Beecher Kelk, says.

Clickability launched just over four years ago as a platform for Australians to review disability services and find better options to suit their needs.

The business now turns over $500,000 annually. Beecher Kelk says beyond the revenue growth, a bigger shift for the business and sector overall is as start-ups like hers reach scale, there are more data and insights available to guide disability providers and the families that use them.

Clickability co-founder Aviva Beecher Kelk.

Clickability co-founder Aviva Beecher Kelk.

"We collect so much data every day in social services and we’re starting to use it in a less traditional way. Engaging with customers about what we're doing is helping people to give feedback, but it also helps customer retention - which is going to be more important over time."

Because of the nature of the ratings system, the start-up can track things like where there might be gaps in support systems.

The research side has been a key focus for Clickability, with Beecher Kelk set to address the Data4Good conference next month to outline how the start-up tracks effective care by drawing on the ratings of its users.

The Clickability team.

The Clickability team.

The challenge for tech start-ups in this space is that, traditionally, the people who would be using them have been "disempowered" from using tech to make their own decisions about care, Beecher Kelk says.

Having now expanded along the east coast, she believes sites like Clickability are only just becoming a go-to for users. There is more growth to come, she says.

"There is a tipping point, but it's still a way off."

The next growth phase

Carer-focused start-ups have hit headlines for their growth over the past year, with social entrepreneurs like Hireup founder Jordan O'Reilly winning EY's Emerging entrepreneur of the year in 2018. 

Hireup, which connects users with disability support workers and carers that share their interests, has a community of 50,000 carers and individual users.

Beecher Kelk says as momentum grows in the space, Clickability is open to angel investor funding in the near future.

"One of the things that we have found a bit challenging is that Australia is set up for not-for-profits to set up social sector services," she says.

That assumption is also changing, as start-ups in the space show how their ideas to leverage technology are actually transitioning into individuals using the service.

Elizabeth hopes that as the AbleFinder community launches, the volume of content driven by families will make the start-up even more relevant to those it is targeted at.

Building a start-up of any kind can be a lonely experience, but the other benefit of growth in the space is there are more founders and communities to connect with.

That's especially useful when your start-up involves hearing from families who may be facing big healthcare challenges, she says.

"I think definitely one thing we’ve found is that the entrepreneurial journey can be quite lonely for founders ... I think I'm still learning how to manage that emotional baggage."

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Emma is the small business reporter for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald based in Melbourne.

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