June 4, 2017
Last updated on February 27, 2018
In February, Mike McDermott won the Social Entrepreneurship Pitchfest at Pause Fest 2017 with his idea to create inexpensive and tailored accessible technology for people with a disability made by people with a disability – The Maker Space. In the three months since the pitch, Mike has developed and changed the idea to focus on delivering deliver digital and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) learning programs to students with a disability.
Mike shared the journey pivoting his idea and the role his pitch at Pause Fest played in setting him on this new path.
- How have you developed and changed the idea for the Accessible Maker Space?
I took the initial idea for Maker Space, making switches to make digital devices more accessible, and started talking to a number of business people. Through those conversations I realised that while the switches are a great idea, I realised that in terms of the broader picture of what I was trying to do, the focus should be on students with a disability both at special schools and in general and STEM and digital learning funding.
There is a lot of funding that has been given by organisations like Google, BHP and CISCO to help young students in the mainstream, women, and people from lower socio-economic backgrounds to get into STEM but there is no funding for students with disabilities. Yet research out of the US indicates that STEM and particularly the way you learn about STEM in terms of ‘design thinking’ – iterative process, creative, failing and starting again – works incredibly well with engaging students with a disability.
With the effort that I would put into creating switches and developing that, I would only reach a small number of people. By doing it this way, I reach a boarder number of people and I have more impact. The opportunity is much stronger, the opportunity to be sustainable is much stronger.
- What are the next steps for piloting?
I am looking for seed funding of approximately $25,000 to kick off programs at four schools – Dandenong, Yarra Ranges and Hume Special Schools and Bulleen Heights Autism School – and to develop my first set of teacher resources. This will give me enough evidence to complete a business plan to get me to the next stage and go after some more substantial investment.
- Where did your passion for working to make digital technology more accessible come from?
My background is in online travel and new technology, then I moved into disability work at Bulleen Heights Autism School. I was talking to students about what they wanted to do after school and they all wanted to do things in the digital space but they didn’t have the training and the teachers didn’t have the skills to teach them what was required, so I set up a programming course.
I also have a real interest in adolescent health, my son has a disability and he has a real interest in technology. He’s nearly 14 now and I’m constantly thinking about how he can have a career, not just a job and how he can earn good money, not just token money. The fact of the matter is that the workforce of tomorrow is being pushed down this digital path and the NDIS has a big focus employment so those two coming together at this time is a good prompt to say let’s get these students and raise the expectations.
- How did you find pitching the idea for Maker Space at Pitchfest?
I certainly found it hard – it was one of the first ones I’ve ever done. The person who actually put me onto this path of looking at moving into providing programs to Special Schools was actually one of the judges – Penelope Lewin – who suggested I look at where my idea could have the most impact for the most amount of people.
I met with Penelope because I was looking for some sponsorship through Microsoft and I ran her through my initial idea and she was the one who said that in terms of my skills and passion, that I should be looking in this area. Her advice was that with the switches, my impact would be in a small area – say just the state of Victoria – but with this type of program I could look Australia-wide. She is also an investor herself and said that’s what investors are looking for – for people who can impact more people than just a small number. It was great advice.
- As the prize you received a double pass to the Social Enterprise Conference 2017. What are you hoping to get out of the event?
I’m just going to absorb as much as I can. One of the key things I’m keen to learn about is the journey people went through in terms of sustainability. I’m also interested to know how people got mentors and to learn about seed funding, how people access investment in their first year to get them up and running and to take it to the next step. A lot of networking too.
Find out more information about Mike McDermott & The Accessible Maker space at www.theaccessiblemakerspace.com