In the era of free and accessible information at our fingertips, TED has become a global sensation for its videos of talks that are centered around spreading new and inspirational ideas. TED also empowers communities to share ideas locally as well, under the program TEDx, which is where communities can gather to watch presentations that are designed for them.
The first and only TEDx event of, for, and by the deaf community, TEDxIslay, was held in Austin in 2010, followed by another one in Los Angeles in 2011. One of the talks from TEDxIslay, “Deaf in the Military” by Keith Nolan, was selected to appear on the front page of TED.com and became a viral sensation. This talk led to a sequence of events which prompted the Secretary of Defense to begin planning a pilot program that would allow Deaf people to serve in the military.
One of the co-organizers, Mark Gobble, passed away tragically in 2012. There will be a TEDxIslay event in 2013 which will be held in his honor. Convo is very proud to have sponsored the TEDxIslay events and we eagerly await the new videos of the talks that will appear in the upcoming weeks. We hope that you will be as inspired by these talks as we were.
Did you know that less than 1% of all businesses in the U.S. currently are Deaf-owned? If we apply the 2.07% of U.S. population that engages in entrepreneurship to the population of Deaf citizens, we should have about 20 thousand more businesses led by Deaf entrepreneurs. Deaf economics is seriously lacking in our world today, and that is precisely what one group of teachers and students is striving to change.
Professors Thomas Baldridge and Alim Chandani teach an integrated capstone course at Gallaudet University on ‘Developing a Social Enterprise Business Plan’. Last year, they teamed up with several students to create an organization called ThinkBiz that would help aspiring Deaf business owners achieve the necessary resources in entrepreneurship. Baldridge and Chandani not only teach the course, they also act as advisors to the ThinkBiz organization, which students themselves run. When Chandani and CEO of ThinkBiz, Don Cullen, talked to Convo about a potential collaboration, we immediately jumped on board. As the Deaf-owned VRS in this industry, we understood the need for more Deaf-owned businesses. ThinkBiz hits it close to home for us.
(Cullen introduces ThinkBiz with Zornoza)
This year, ThinkBiz launched a pilot Business Plan competition. Students of Baldridge and Chandani’s capstone course worked in groups throughout this spring semester to develop a business plan that would serve as their entry in the first-ever business plan competition, judged by Michael Janger, Margie English, and our very own Wayne Betts, Jr.
Six teams of two or three students entered the competition, each presenting their own entrepreneurship idea and plan to the judges and audience. The judges deliberated and awarded second place to Custom ASL, presented by Ryan Bonheyo, Albert McCrea, and Jared Vollmar. Their business plan proposal was to provide ASL classes for the restaurants and bars on H Street, which are frequented by Gallaudet students and staff. The classes would be customized to best fit the type of communication that occurs between the staff and Deaf customers.
First place went to Boomerang Cafe, by Raaed Abu-Atteeyah and Richard Dahan, who were gifted an iPad mini from Convo. Boomerang Cafe is an already-existing business on campus, located inside Living and Learning Residence Hall. However, it was lacking a business plan, which was what Abu-Atteeyah and Dahan presented. Their clear and structured plan won the judges over. First and second place winners also received monetary prizes from sponsors.
(The judges watching as a team presents)
“In the past, Gallaudet students have tried to set up businesses, but they collapsed as soon as the students graduated. I hope that ThinkBiz will be an incubator that serves as the missing link for transition to preserve existing businesses. I want the students to feel a sense of ownership with ThinkBiz; it should be a vibrant center of resources for them,” Cullen commented.
“There is no business culture here,” agreed Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Cybulski. Cybulski was also the Master of Ceremony at the competition.
Chief Financial Officer Travis Zornoza wishes he had this type of access to resources and support when he was a freshman. “Gallaudet would be a different place by now,” Zornoza contemplated. “Many Deaf people have great ideas for entrepreneurship, but don’t know where to start. This is the perfect opportunity to try them out and to make mistakes. Make it your playground.”
“We want to expand ThinkBiz from organization to incorporation for outside of Gallaudet as well as inside. We can do more. Pop that Deaf bubble!” said Clayton McMillan, Chief Marketing Officer.
(Wayne with the winners and their new iPad mini)
ThinkBiz winners Abu-Atteeyah and Dahan plan to expand equipment and add food options with their monetary prize.
“We really want to buy an espresso machine and a refrigerator,” Abu-Atteeyah said.
“We’ll use Square on our new mini iPad to make credit card charges,” Dahan added. “I hope to see a larger pool of competitive applications and employees, and to see awareness spread. Someday, there might even be a Boomerang Cafe franchise. Who knows?”
“But, our first and foremost goal is to keep Boomerang Cafe going,” Abu-Atteeyah chimed in. Wise thinking, as a significant percentage of businesses never make it past the first three years.
Stability is key in a strong Deaf economy, which could potentially be a powerful tool for our community. Think of the opportunities that could be created with a vigorous center for Deaf entrepreneurs. We’re calling it: ThinkBiz is onto something big here.
If you are a Deaf entrepreneur, get on Convo’s CODE Directory! Apply today:
Current and aspiring Deaf business owners alike flocked to the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley, CA for Deaf Business Symposium, hosted by DCARA. This weekend-long event included presentations, workshops, networking, and more. Convo was asked to send owner and former CEO Robin Horwitz and Vice President of Operations Jewel Jauregui for a panel presentation. DCARA Executive Director Jim Brune moderated the panel and asked Robin and Jewel some questions to gain insight in how, after four years, Convo became the fourth largest VRS provider in the industry. Audience members were able to ask questions at the end. Below is a summary of the highlights of the panel presentation.
Audience member engaging in discussion with Robin
Inspiration to start Convo
Robin: I was frustrated with the quality of service, so based on my experience and frustrations, I and other people decided to start Convo.
Jewel: It was as simple as seeing the quality of VRS and knowing that we could do better.
Robin: I have one story to share, which served as fuel for my drive to achieve the best relay service experience possible. I was calling a potential sponsorship opportunity through another VRS provider, and the interpreter was slouching in his seat and doing such a sloppy job of interpreting. I was thinking, “This is a professional call and this interpreter is not representing me in a professional manner!” I never forgot that experience, and it was one of the things that kept me reaching for a company like Convo.
Robin: I will tell you this: Convo’s start-up funds was zero. I’m not kidding, we had no money when we first began. Our priority was to get FCC certificate, so first, we needed someone familiar with FCC policies, and we got Ed Bosson. Next, we needed someone technology savvy, and that was Chad Taylor. We needed an expert in marketing, and that was Wayne Betts, Jr. We all became owners, but with no pay. Later, when we launched Convo, we only had 3-4K in funds.
Jewel: All of us had little to zero experience, but we removed any self-doubts that may have been instilled during our lives, like: “Oh, women can’t do it. Women aren’t good with math. Deaf people can’t do it.” Instead, we focused on finding the right people with the right skills. We had nerve. We had a “can-do” attitude. I think it’s really important to follow your instincts, too. When dealing with people you want to work with, listen to what your instincts tell you.
Robin: Here’s a tip: young lawyers that are just starting out tend to want to prove themselves. They are usually hungry for opportunity and experience, and will work hard. Our lawyer, who helped us become FCC-certified, was exactly that.
Convo’s best asset
Jewel: People who work at Convo actually use our own service. We look for interpreters with the right attitude. We care about our own services. Our best asset is our heart.
Robin: When we see a lazy interpreter, it’s actually the company’s fault. Interpreters may be at the front line, but it takes logistics that occur behind the scenes to make the experience at the front line smooth. We want to make sure our interpreters are happy.
Robin: It’s very simple: certification, integrity, and transparency. For example, it can be hard for our callers to get information on FCC and its policies, so we communicate what FCC says to them.
Jewel: Our core value will always be the caller’s experience. Like Robin said, we wanted to make sure our callers understood what was going on with FCC changes. You’re all smart people and we don’t need to dumb anything down, but we wanted to present this information in your own language. (See a video of Wayne explaining FCC’s new tiered rates here)
Another thing about transparency; we went through some tough times when we weren’t getting paid from FCC, but we never hid any of this from our staff. We asked them if we could pay them later and they chose to believe in us and were willing to stick with us until we got through it together.
Jewel talking about how to deal with budget freeze
Robin: I personally don’t like business plans because they can lock you in, but it is a good idea to keep a general plan as a point of reference.
Jewel: Put down your ideas and visions, but how to reach them? There are a lot of different ways, so you have to be flexible.
Robin: The biggest reason Convo survived, with first-timer Deaf owners, was because we found a strict financial person. For your first start-up opportunity, set aside money for a lawyer and a financial person. For your second and on, you could be less dependent in these areas because of your experience with the first business.
Jewel: It’s important to have smart and trust-worthy people around you. Don’t ignore your intuition. Dream big, but be realistic at the same time.
Robin: Paranoia is a good thing sometimes. If you feel that something is off, don’t ignore it! Stay on top of it. Another tip is to build a model of a one-year plan. Sometimes what seems good in your head will appear flawed in writing. For example, our legal fees became our debt, so it’s good to outline the first year in writing. Most people look at debt as a bad thing, but that’s not necessarily true. Some debt are good debt. It is okay to borrow money for a good investment. Immerse yourself into your service and become your business’s best salesperson, as long as it’s not scripted and comes from the heart because you believe in it. Have a back-up plan and surround yourself with people smarter than you are; it’ll teach you a lot.
Leila Hanaumi interviewing Matt Daigle at his home.
Q: What was it like to work on this innovative logo?
A: This was a very rewarding project because I had the fortunate opportunity to collaborate with Convo and CSDF in developing the logo. The process started with the students. They were given a challenge by teachers, staff, and administrators to create a logo based on their personal experience with CSDF and their vision for the future. This made my job easy because I could take their concept and expand upon it. It felt freeing to have this kind of collaboration with the students because I felt secure that the logo I was developing was based upon the students perspective, not mine.
Wayne Betts, Jr. from Convo and I worked close together to finalize the logo. When it was complete, I was invited to the unveiling ceremony at CSDF. I was able to meet the student (Tirzah Farley) who designed the original concept. I felt proud and honored to be a part of the ceremony. No one person created the entire logo; it was a wonderful collaboration of a lot of talented and caring people.
Q: Could you explain your role in CSDF’s new logo and the process of designing and editing the logo?
From beginning to end, the project took about one month. After the students submitted the top three designs, the first step was the rough sketching process. I developed over 50 sketches of the students’ work. I wanted to provide Convo and CSDF and large body of work to pick from. I enjoyed working with Superintendent Sean Virnig because he was able to give me insight into making the logo more academic and less athletic looking. After numerous revisions, the sketches were eliminated one by one until we had our three best designs. It was then that I scanned them into the computer and worked some Adobe Illustrator magic to polish them up. The top three designs were then voted on by the community, school administrators, and students.
Once the votes were in, I went to work on the new logo. Here is where my 15 years of design experience came into play. I wanted to give the logo a welcoming but academic feel to it. I wanted to avoid a corporate feel which is usually achieved with crisp, bold lines. I also wanted it to be gender-neutral and reflect the school’s history which can be seen in the eagle feathers.
Matt working on the logo in his office.
Q: How do you feel about the logo?
This logo reflects strong Deaf culture values and I like that. When I saw the draft of this logo, I thought it was very abstract. You can really play with it and have multiple ways to use it. There were so many messages to convey within the logo: the school motto (“Learn. Experience. Thrive.”), a sense of it being the home of signers and of the Eagles, the aesthetic value and motion of ASL, etc. I’ve designed logos with hands in them, but they’ve always been frozen and static. This is the first logo that imitates the movement of sign language, which is beautiful. I get the chills thinking about it. The community seems to love this logo, which is wonderful! I love it, too.
Q: Do you think that this unique thinking and incorporation of ASL will affect future logos?
I definitely think that this logo will create a new wave of ideas. There are some old logos that have the hand shapes in the first letters of the organization or company name and many schools still have traditional logos, such as the school seal or crest, but that’s old thinking. Logos do get updated or changed all the time; companies often revamp logos every 25 years or so. People want to clean up logos or want new changes, and that is normal. Complicated logos don’t look good on the Internet; minimalism is best. Maybe other Deaf schools might revamp their logos after this to accommodate being displayed on the internet.
Also, I feel that our government still needs to see the value of ASL, and this logo is one way to show it. Deaf schools are downsizing today, so we need this recognition of ASL We want to make sure we show the essence of ASL and community that reflect our values. ASL is our language and now CSDF’s new logo can represent that language everywhere, on posters, official letterheads, stamps, and more– people are going to see it. Images are powerful. I have experienced that with the comic strip that my wife and I created, “That Deaf Guy”, hearing people read it and want to take ASL classes. It’s a new time for us.
All smiles with the finished logo!
Q: As a Deaf artist, what was the experience of working with a Deaf company and Deaf school like?
It was fantastic, but different. The Deaf community wanted to be more involved in the process compared to hearing clients. It was pretty similar in terms of collaboration, but when it came to the final approval, it was different. Many hearing clients I worked with give a little feedback, but with this logo, the Deaf community had a lot to day. We discussed why this and why that until it was absolutely perfect. Deaf people are naturally more visual, so the image means more to them.
Because CSDF is such an outstanding school, it was an honor to work on this project. It consider it one of the highlights of my career.
To watch an animation, created by Braam Jordaan, of the new logo, click play below:
We’re finally opening the call center of our dreams. And it’s based in Rochester, the home of one of the largest deaf communities in the U.S.
One of the highlights of Rochester is the Rochester Institute of Technology [where Wayne Betts, Jr. majored in film] and the Rochester School for the Deaf [RSD] where our CEO, Robin Horwitz grew up and graduated.
See if you can find Robin in this graduation picture from 1989. To refresh your memory of what he looks like now, here’s a snapshot of him in our Convo office from our previous vlog.
Come visit our Open House on Wednesday, September 12th in West Henrietta from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Come over to meet us. We look forward to chatting with you.