Valerie Herskowitz never imagined she’d become an entrepreneur until her son, Blake, was diagnosed with autism. And though John D’Eri had several company launches under his belt, he too was motivated by his own autistic son to look to a new business model.
Herskowitz’s endeavor, The Chocolate Spectrum, grew out of an informal therapy program she had been running from her home kitchen in Florida. In 2016, she opened the doors of her new chocolate shop and job-training center to the public.
Nearby, John D’Eri, along with his son Tom, had launched Rising Tide Car Wash in 2013 as a means to boost the employment opportunities for his autistic son, Andrew. Today the enterprise has grown to two locations in Florida that employ more than 60 people.
Statistics show these kind of work programs are sorely needed. Approximately 80 percent of people on the spectrum are unemployed or underemployed. The good news? Herskowitz’s shop and D’Eri’s car wash are just two of a growing number of businesses working to create job opportunities for adults with autism.
Herskowitz met John D’Eri at an autism fundraiser. Through Rising Tide U — D’Eri’s related initiative that offers online courses to help aspiring entrepreneurs launch similar companies — she was able to turn The Chocolate Spectrum into a viable business.
“If we can really prove to the business community that there’s real value in employing people with autism, we’ll close the unemployment gap,” says Rising Tide’s Tom D’Eri.
Watch the video above to learn more about Herskowitz and the D’Eris — and the power of this new business model.