Linda was a 40-year-old woman diagnosed with MS (multiple sclerosis). By the time I met her, she had lost use of her hands and legs. I hired Linda and was astonished by the quality of work she produced. She was one of my best employees! This experience inspired me to look into the market for hiring people with disabilities. I was astonished to discover that this relatively large group of people had at best a 30% employment rate. That’s when I decided to start Pearl Interactive Network, a social enterprise that provides careers to qualified, dedicated, and skilled individuals with employment challenges.
Growing Pearl into the multi-million dollar company it is today was not an easy task. There were moments when I was close to giving up. When I started to market Pearl Interactive Network as a company that gave employment to people with disabilities, I could not find one company willing to engage with us.
Luckily I had a great mentor, who handed me a copy of Blue Ocean Strategy. I was reading the Cemex case and then it hit me: I needed to shift my focus from a functional to an emotional appeal. So instead of fruitlessly trying to convince employers of the benefits of hiring someone with a disability, I now looked at a group that could count on an enormous emotional support in America: disabled veterans and veterans, people with disabilities, and people living in geographically challenged areas.
So when I was writing my business plan, centered around this group of people, I knew I was onto something. Could this be my blue ocean? At a Washington D.C. business networking event, I met and hired a business development person – who I couldn’t afford – to assist with accessing government contracts. It was a bold move, but one that paid off in ways beyond my expectations. We landed a 4-year $32 million dollar contract with the Federal Government, launching us to become one of the largest federal government sub-contractors!
I attribute our success to many factors. One of the greatest, thanks to the Blue Ocean Strategy book, was a valuable market proposition of employing disabled veterans, veterans and people with disabilities in a market that truly embraces initiatives to hire veterans.
Today we have grown to 500 employees in 26 states, and we have access to a workforce of almost half a million. These individuals might be living under challenging conditions, but they are also highly skilled and talented. Over the last years, we have helped hundreds of people with challenges find meaningful employment, and we are now working on an IT Apprenticeship Program, that provides IT career pathways to people with challenges to work. A concept, again, inspired by the Blue Ocean Strategy book.
Recently I gave a presentation on “How to develop your Blue Ocean Strategy” at the Women for Economic and Leadership Development (WELD), a Columbus, Ohio-based leadership development organization. The session aimed at inspiring female leaders to set themselves apart from the competition. Blue Ocean Strategy has had a seismic impact on my business, and I hope that, by sharing my story, I can encourage people to go out and find their blue oceans too.
Find out more about Pearl Interactive Network.