Firm helps the disabled to set up businesses

Ms Wendy Tay, who owns and runs a cleaning business, with Entrepreneurs with Disabilities co-founder Joseph Tay at the social enterprise's office.
Ms Wendy Tay, who owns and runs a cleaning business, with Entrepreneurs with Disabilities co-founder Joseph Tay at the social enterprise's office.ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

Ms Wendy Tay, 37, who is deaf, was earning $1,500 a month working in a bakery.

That was until October last year. Now, she makes only a third of that every month.

But this is not the story of a person's loss, but gain.

While she earns less, she now owns and runs a cleaning business, in which she finds more dignity and fulfilment.

"I do what I love and am good at. I enjoy cleaning so it's not a chore," she typed out on a laptop.

"The pace at the bakery was very fast and I could not cope with it. Sometimes I got orders wrong because it was hard for my colleagues to communicate with me."

The time flexibility of running her own business also allows her to take upgrading courses, such as an office skills course run by the SPD, formerly the Society for the Physically Disabled.

She is one of 40 people with disabilities - most of whom are deaf - who have been helped by social enterprise Entrepreneurs with Disabilities.

The duo behind the social enterprise - co-founders Joseph Tay, 26, and Philip Wu, 47 - started their work in November 2013 to help those with disabilities to set up small businesses.

Mr Wu said: "Many of them find it difficult to get a job. I felt it was not too difficult to set up a small business, so last year we bought a small shop in Peninsula Shopping Centre as a retail space for them to display their goods and to use as a training centre."

Mr Wu, who is also chief executive of media production company Grid Synergy, has vast business experience. He set up Neo Studios with director Jack Neo in 2007.

Under his guidance, the 40 beneficiaries have set up 10 businesses ranging from one that creates bouquets with LEDs, to Ms Tay's cleaning business, to a one-man Web design firm.

"Some good companies are taking off," said Mr Wu.

Entrepreneurs with Disabilities gets the beneficiaries to pitch their business plans, then helps them to refine the plans, and also funds them when necessary.

"It's not so much about the money, but training them and giving them the confidence and guidance," said Mr Wu.

In October, leading executives of StarHub - where Mr Wu used to work - came in to help refine the business plans.

Ms Tay, for example, was advised to do her home and office cleaning only with "green" products - which is why her company is called Greenberry Cleaning & Concierge Services, when it used to be called Blueberry.

While she has many regular clients who recommend friends, she also puts up advertisements online. She hopes to get more clients whose homes or offices she can clean at night after her classes, which are on weekdays.

"It's about dignity and feeling like what they do is treasured," said Mr Wu.

•For information on Entrepreneurs with Disabilities, e-mail joseph@youthwithoutborders.net

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 11, 2015, with the headline 'Firm helps the disabled to set up businesses'. Print Edition | Subscribe