BTN LiveBIG: Innovation, opportunity at AutonomyWorks

What do you get when you match major marketing power to social cause efforts to increase employment opportunities for adults on the autism spectrum? You get AutonomyWorks, winner of the 2013 Chicago Innovation Awards.

Two years ago, founder Dave Friedman identified an opportunity to match the skills of the autism community with the needs of many industries. He brought on another major marketing executive, Bryan Van Dyke, to be the chief operating officer a year ago. Van Dyke is working hard to introduce AutonomyWorks to corporate leadership.

LiveBIG talked with University of Iowa alumnus Bryan Van Dyke to discuss the enterprise and the rewards and challenges of AutonomyWorks efforts.

AW logoWhat is the goal of AutonomyWorks?

Our mission is to create thousands of jobs for people on the autism spectrum or with other disabilities, either directly or indirectly. We can provide staffing solutions where we manage directly the work assignments, or we can also help source for companies to hire folks directly. That is what differentiates us. We are not about maximizing profits. We are a B corporation; we have a responsibility to give back to the greater good. We want to create jobs for people on the spectrum, however we can.

What sorts of work are you finding for adults on the Autism spectrum?

We compete with offshore and contractors who do digital and marketing production work. We have built out a great breadth of skills for web production: digital marketing and ecommerce operations, analytics, reporting, data maintenance, and quality assurance and testing. For example, for one client, we built over 150 websites, based on their templates. We have found that our staff can be faster over the course of the day and, more importantly, our quality is better than most current staffing solutions for such tasks because a person who is on the spectrum tends to be good at attention to detail and do well with repetitive process, even over a long day. By 3 p.m. you or I might lose focus and our performance might slip, but for people on the spectrum, they have a natural disposition to do very well with these specific responsibilities.

What has been the biggest challenge of getting corporations on board?

Marketing AutonomyWorks has not been a challenge: everyone loves the story and wants to pay attention. But the challenge is getting companies to outsource work they have not outsourced yet. Those companies need to fully comprehend their own process. For the staffing solution to work, we need to train the company’s employees so they are on board to let go of the work as well as training our staff to work within their process. The work we are finding right now are new streams of work, where we don’t disrupt a current work process. But we can do the work that is being done by contract staff and offshore staff.

What do you hope to accomplish?

I find that people are often surprised to hear the scope of the problem. 500,000 people with autism will be entering the work force in the next decade … leading to hundreds of thousands of unemployed. It is estimated that 3.4 million service jobs have been outsourced over the last 10 years alone. We know that 30% of those jobs are ones our staff can do. Corporations can, through us, re-shore their jobs to North America. But more importantly, people on the spectrum are about 90% unemployed because people aren’t hiring them for their skills. We are creating a new workforce that utilizes their process-oriented background. No one has ever tried to tap into this work force in this way before.

What is next for AutonomyWorks?

Wave one was answering the question “will this work?” Wave two, which we have just completed, is evaluating the breadth of service we can provide. We are now moving into wave three, which is building scale.

We have no idea how big this opportunity is that we are uncovering here, but we are focused on the dynamics of the individual and the group and making sure they work well with each other and with the clients we serve. This is where my capabilities comes in.

You completed both your undergraduate and your MBA at University of Iowa. You must have really loved the university.

Creating the right kind of work environment and being that kind of leader started with my training at University of Iowa during both my undergraduate and graduate years. After graduating from Iowa, I worked for about 5 years before going back to get my MBA. I chose Iowa the second time because of the value, because when you compare the cost and the quality of graduate programs, it was a great investment for me. I knew and appreciated the quality of the education. And I got the skills I needed to progress my career to where I am now . . . working to fill a corporate need with an amazing untapped staffing pool.

To learn more about AutonomyWorks, visit their website.

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