The nonprofit sector has long been known for altruism, but innovation? Not so much. Incight, a Portland-based nonprofit that aims to unlock the potential of people with disabilities, hopes to change that.
After all, there’s no reason that you can’t do good and make money while you’re at it. That’s exactly what Incight hopes to accomplish with its groundbreaking electric hockey cart, a Danish invention that hasn’t yet made it to the United States. Until now.
Incight doesn’t only plan to distribute the carts, but to build the United States’ first-ever national hockey league for the disability community. We sat down with Incight staff members Scott Hatley and Daniel Friess to learn more:
The spark that inspired you to pursue electric hockey carts: Incight has been around for 10 years, helping people with disabilities contribute to society. When we started, only 16% of people with disabilities were going to college and 75% were unemployed.
We’re in the midst of a strategic effort to pursue fee-based entrepreneurial services and products to sustain our philanthropic efforts. It was a Rotary exchange student from Denmark who introduced us to the electric hockey cart. It’s specifically designed for people with what we call “joystick-only mobility.” The student’s father was the CFO of a medical equipment manufacturer and received a grant to create this sports chair. Most wheelchairs go three miles per hour; these go 10.
Throughout Scandinavia, they have a hockey leagues for people with disabilities that uses these chairs. We’ve acquired the rights to distribute them in the United States, and we plan to launch the first hockey league here.
How you plan to make money: We’ve already secured funding from EID Passport, Standard Insurance, and Nike, and we plan to establish a model by which communities will organize self-funded clubs, just like a local soccer league. So our “customer” isn’t so much the person with disabilities who will be using the chair, but rather the community organizer who is heading a local league.
The numbers are exciting—these chairs retail at $10,000 and we’re projecting that a national league could grow to about 10,000 members. We’re not chasing a big equity play—we’re after a legitimate revenue opportunity so we can repurpose our earnings into other programs and services for the disability community.
The best thing about being an entrepreneur: There’s not a lot of entrepreneurship in the nonprofit world, especially in the disability arena. It’s nice doing this under a 501(c)3 banner because there’s a lot of intentionality around what we’re trying to accomplish. Plus, it’s lots of fun!
Biggest challenges to date: We’re behind schedule; we’ve had a lack of bandwidth and money to get out of the gate. Our team is pursuing a few huge projects, and like many early-phase businesses our efforts are spread thin. Our board recently approved funds for bringing a project manager on board.
Your #1 piece of advice for a budding entrepreneur: Gather a diverse group of advisors sooner rather than later. It’s so easy to go into a vacuum and convince yourself that your idea is going to explode. It hurts when someone pokes a hole in your plan, but the marketplace will do that for you if your advisors don’t. Open up your eyes and ears, and find people who won’t just affirm your project, but direct it.
What wild success looks like: If we’re wildly successful, we’ll be bringing a new sport to the 2020 Paralympics. And our revenue will be repurposed for tons of community good.
On an individual level, we’ll be giving kids with disabilities, especially those with joystick-only mobility, an outlet and an opportunity they didn’t have before. Take Christopher—he’s 8 years old, and he’s always wanted to be a football player. His mother has had to tell him that that’s not going to happen. He’s always watched his sister play sports, and now for the first time his sister is watching Christopher play hockey.
It’s so easy to go into a vacuum and convince yourself that your idea is going to explode.” (Tweet this)
Your favorite local business: Of course, we’re partial to Immix Law and Keen Healthcare because of their founding support to Incight. Puj is also an incredibly successful but under-the-radar baby product company in Vancouver, Wa. And of course, there’s Blue Collar Baking Company, right near our office. They’re not afraid of butter.
Why Oregon is a good place to start a business: Oregon is developing a community brand as an entrepreneurial hub. There’s a lot of respect and excitement around entrepreneurship. And it’s a tight-knit community—it’s easy to meet funders, investors, and people who want to help.
Your most critical need: We really need a champion. We’re looking for someone who’s an entrepreneur with experience in marketing, branding, and bizdev, who can drive our upcoming crowdfunding campaign and help us launch our Portland league by mid-year. If you’re interested in joining the project team as the program manager or in an advisory role, please let us know!