Harkin Summit on Scaling Disability-Driven Innovation

Key Takeaways and Outcomes report from the 2023 Harkin Summit on Scaling Disability-Driven Innovation available now!

May 9-10, 2023

You’re invited to the Inaugural Harkin Summit on Scaling Disability-Driven Innovation hosted by The Harkin Institute in partnership with Cruise, the CEO Commission for Disability Employment, the National Down Syndrome Society, and the Perkins School for the Blind, Voya Cares, Walmart, and John Deere Financial on May 9-10, 2023. The two-day Summit will bring together leaders from the disability movement, the private and public sectors, and investor community to scale the innovative potential of persons with disabilities to transform the economy, so it creates value for all. The Summit will build on existing work done at The Harkin Institute focused on assessing vocational rehabilitation policies and self-employment services in all 50 states in the U.S. and the District of Columbia, as well as research exploring the connection between disability inclusion and long-term value creation for shareholders and stakeholders – such as employees, consumers and our communities.

Tuesday May 9, 2023

Day 1 of the Summit will consist of a series of small group, invite-only panel discussions and interactive roundtable discussions. In addition to the networking and collaboration opportunities, a tangible outcome will be a “roadmap” to be published for external use. The roadmap will provide best practices for disability-driven innovation becoming a driver of equitable socio-economic growth – both today and into the future. Day 1 will be capped off by a “Dining in the Dark” event at Mainframe Studios – an immersive, communal dining experience where blindfolded participants use senses other than sight to explore food and drink. The evening will also feature work from fellow Jill Wells.

Wednesday May 10, 2023

Day 2 will focus on fostering the innovative potential of persons with disabilities and creating employment opportunities by allowing entrepreneurs and business owners to pitch their start-up idea to local businesses, entrepreneurs, and community leaders. The presentations will be followed by a job fair and social where organizations can network with and interview prospective candidates. Career mentors will also be present to provide advice to job seekers on skills such as resume building, networking, and interviewing.  This page will be updated as more information is released.


View the full agenda of sessions and activities for the 2023 Harkin Summit on Scaling Disability Driven Innovation

Mentor/Mentee Resources

Day 1

Discussion Tracks

Day 1 of Scaling Disability-Driven Innovation will have two tracks with the goal of publishing an actionable “roadmap” – an accessible document with recommendations, insights, and takeaways from the two days of conversation. The roadmap will serve as a resource for any entrepreneur or organization with a desire to start or expand their business and for established businesses to better integrate the innovative potential of persons with disabilities into all levels of their organization.

Track Options:

1) Scaling Entrepreneurship

While the dream for some is creating the next Tesla or Apple, we must appreciate that entrepreneurship for many persons with disabilities is the most viable pathway to full employment – not just for themselves but for people they employ as their business grows. This track will explore how actors across the economy (investors, business leaders, policymakers, etc.) can help startups and small businesses owned by persons with disabilities to not just sustain themselves but scale to a point where they have the capacity to bring their products into major marketplaces such as Wal-Mart or be in a network of suppliers to global companies.

2) Integrating Disability-Driven Innovation into Business Models

This track will explore how companies can – and must – more actively integrate the perspectives, lived experiences, and innovative mindset of persons with disabilities into all aspects of the business, from product innovation to manufacturing to marketing. Research has found that persons with disabilities have a higher level of innovation than their non- disabled peers. Further, having a disability perspective is important as companies reach the global population of consumers with disabilities.

Dining in the Dark

Join The Harkin Institute, The Perkins School for the Blind, Voya Financial, and the CEO Commission on Disability Employment on May 9 at 6 p.m. CT for Dining in the Dark–an immersive experience where participants have the opportunity to experience first-hand the challenges and opportunities persons with visual disabilities face in the workforce.

Day 2

Disability-Driven Innovation Summit Business Pitch Session

On May 10, the Disability-Driven Innovation Summit will host an in person and virtual session for entrepreneurs and small business owners that embody the best of disability-driven innovation. Ideal participants are small business owners wanting to increase product distribution/scale their business model, entrepreneurs, and innovators who have developed – or are developing a product or service that: 

    • Allows persons with disabilities to more fully participate in the workforce or communities in which they live; or 
    • Allows non-disabled persons to better engage and collaborate with persons with disabilities across all sectors of society. 

The session is meant to offer an opportunity for participants to showcase their business, its innovation, and its impact to attendees of the Summit. The presentations can be made in person at the Tom and Ruth Harkin Center at Drake University or virtually through a Zoom portal. 

Applications are due by May 2, and those selected to present at the Summit will be notified by May 6. 

Selected entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to receive consultation and guidance in scaling their business or product line with the support of local and nationally recognized companies and brands. Attendees will have the opportunity to support small business owners and entrepreneurs through a variety of options including financial investment, mentorship and promotional support.   

Submission Materials

Each applicant will be required to complete a brief, online application through a secure log-in on The Harkin Institute website. Please submit a PowerPoint presentation with a limit of 10 slides that will include the following information: 

    • The company’s mission  
    • The problem being addressed, and why it matters 
    • The research and development used to address the problem 
    • The demographic who will buy/use the product or solution (including the potential to scale to markets beyond persons with disabilities) 
    • The reason this concept needs to come to market now 
    • The business model 
    • Market competition 
    • The team 

 Optional supporting attachments can be included. They can be as follows:  

    • Business Plan or Business Canvas Model  
    • Additional materials such as videos or features of your business  
    • Targeted Small Business, Veteran Owned Certificate or Disabled Owned Business Enterprise (DOBE) Certificate through DisabilityIN 

Social Hour Job Fair

THI and its partners will host a “Social Hour Job Fair” where attending people and organizations can network with each other in an accessible, easygoing manner. Career mentors will be present to provide advice to job seekers on vocational areas of interest, skills such as resume building, networking, and interviewing. This session will allow candidates to expand their network, apply for open vacancies, and gain familiarity with the hiring processes of companies across the U.S.

Thank you to our Sponsors!