The Special Entrepreneurs website is an online shopping portal where people with special needs can sell their products.
Created by 4S Ranch resident Vidhi Kulkarni, it also features inspiring stories about sellers.
Sofia Villar, 21, a student at Abraxas High School, is one of them. Villar, who has Down syndrome, makes necklaces out of ribbon, money and candy. As students prepared to graduate, Villar got to work preparing leis for the ceremony.
“All of her necklaces are handmade with love and she is excited to give them to graduates to show her appreciation and support,” thespecialpreneurs.org says.
Villar began making necklaces while spending time with her cousin, Reid Basinger, who was preparing to graduate from fifth grade last year. Villar’s aunt, Susan Basinger, suggested Villar make her a necklace to wear during the ceremony.
Then Villar learned that Reid’s friends and others also wanted a lei.
This year, Villar earned about 50 leis, 30 of which went to people who bought them on the website for $15 each.
Some were hand-delivered to graduates. One woman even drove from her home in Chula Vista to pick up a lei from Villar at Abraxas High.
“It was fun to meet them in person and I got to thank them,” Villar said. “It was nice to know I made them happy.”
His next venture will be customizing T-shirts with unique sayings such as “You are special just the way you are.” She will brand them through her business, Sofi’s Shop, she said.
Kulkarni, 16, a new high school senior at Del Norte High School, wants to continue the momentum by expanding The Special Entrepreneurs website with more vendors from the special needs community.
“We want more people from the Abraxas community and the community at large to get the experience of starting their own business, selling their own products and doing something they are passionate about,” said Kulkarni, who founded The Special Entrepreneurs in August 2020. “We believe in what people can do rather than what they can’t do and so that’s what we focus on.”
Kulkarni got the idea for The Special Entrepreneurs from his experiences in a buddy program at Oak Valley Middle School in 4S Ranch. She was paired with an adult with special abilities who was a great painter, she said.
“He made beautiful paintings but he had a harder time integrating into the job market and school activities, but he loved painting,” she said. “That made me think he could do something with his paintings, like turn his paintings into a business.”
With the help of her mother, Bhakti Kulkarni, and father, Ameya Kulkarni, she holds monthly workshops, usually at the Poway Library or 4S Ranch Library. Workshops cover topics such as entrepreneurship and financial literacy.
A key part of the workshops are speakers who can share their stories of becoming entrepreneurs.
“Guest speakers are usually people with special abilities who run successful businesses,” Kulkarni said. “It’s about inspiring members to discover how they overcame their challenges and how to start their own successful business. »
Last year, workshop participants made Christmas cards and then sold them at Acton’s Business Fair held in Rancho Santa Fe just before Christmas, she said.
Other special needs entrepreneurs made dog treats through a partnership with Abraxas High’s Abraxas Transition Program. The dog treats were sold at the same trade show and all proceeds were donated to students in the program.
A workshop held this spring by the nonprofit The Special Entrepreneurs and the Abraxas Bridging Program involved teaching aspiring entrepreneurs about “scratch programming.” Participants created their own video games using the scratch method of dragging and dropping blocks of programming code. Afterwards, participants learned about the process of starting their own business, Kulkarni said.
About 15 to 20 people have attended each workshop, Kulkarni said, but many more are registered users of the website thespecialpreneurs.org, she said. Website users stay informed about upcoming workshops through the website’s online newsletter, she added.
“We have an online store and basically with the store we try to accommodate diverse products and owners,” Kulkarni said. “We also have an individualized approach to product sales. We have a video of the seller and a story about how he started his own business.
Special Entrepreneurs intend to expand their reach by hosting a business fair this month or in August. The goal is to connect businesspeople with people with special abilities, allowing them to share product information and get ideas for starting their own businesses.
Kulkarni received a National Honorable Mention from the National Center for Women in Technology (NCWIT). The award recognizes young women who have made a significant impact on their communities in the fields of technology and computing.
The organization recognized Kulkarni for teaching fundamental programming skills during workshops and creating The Special Entrepreneurs website.
Her mother, Bhakti Kulkarni, said many small businesses in San Diego County are owned by people with special needs who have successfully started their businesses. Some sell jams, cookies or wooden craft products, among other things, she explained.
“We plan to bring them together so people can see what can be done and get inspired by their ideas,” Kulkarni said. “We want to get the message out so more people know.” It’s about getting them to discover their own business, selling products and inspiring people to be grateful. That’s the whole intention.
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