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Start Up incubator catches the eye of 7.30 Report

For people with disability in and around the Newcastle area, Start Up is helping to breathe life into their savvy business ideas.

Sarah Simmonds and Jonathan Bridge are two such success stories – so much so that they’ve caught the attention of the national media, with their stories airing on the 7.30 Report in February.

Here’s how Start Up is changing lives and generating a groundswell of support around exciting business ideas.

The story of Start Up

Developed by Beth Innes, the Start Up program began life with Challenge Community Services in Newcastle and, due to its recent successes, will expand into Tamworth in 2020.

The peer-led program is designed for people with disability and run by people with disability, and is funded by the NDIS under the Information, Linkages and Capacity Building (ILC) grants. Most importantly, though, it’s a way to help individuals in the community to explore their strengths, skills and interests in order to develop their unique business ideas.

With an exceptional support network that provides training and mentoring to participants, they are able to transform their dreams of running a business into reality – whether that’s with a microbusiness or self-driven employment.

Created by people with disability for people with disability

Katie Butler is Start Up’s program coordinator in Newcastle and is supported by a talented network of mentors.

Mel Schlaeger is an experienced mentor who has helped a number of Start Up participants throughout their journeys. No stranger to the ways in which stigma and discrimination can impact people with disability as they strive to establish themselves in business, self-employed Mel is in a unique position to assist others as they achieve their goals – with Sarah and Jonathan just the tip of the iceberg.

Groovin with Sarah

The success of Start Up has already been picked up by local media in Newcastle, however news of what the incubator is doing for people with disability has now reached national headlines after reporter Nick Hose covered the story for the 7.30 Report.

One of the participants he interviewed is Sarah Simmonds, who is extremely interested in improving the health and fitness of people in her community through Zumba. She started ‘Groovin with Sarah’ and is currently exploring opportunities to develop more moves and find new venues to hold her Zumba sessions.

Sarah is keen to work with aged and community services to deliver Zumba Gold sessions – a low-impact version of Zumba suitable for older individuals, people with disability and people with low mobility.

Not one to rest on her laurels, Sarah is also has a long-term goal to develop a dance group for people with disability, and is planning to organise a concert for dancers with disability.

Divergent Play

Showcasing the diversity of Start Up’s participants, Jonathan Bridge is a gaming fanatic with dreams of delivering table-top games to people with autism or who, like him, see themselves as non-neurotypical. Jonathan’s own disability has influenced his business strategy and he is currently working hard on the administrative and practical sides of the business.

Customer service, marketing and promotion are additional facets of the business that Jonathan is gaining skills in, and beyond his own gaming ideas he intends to adapt existing games to suit his target audience.

A constantly evolving program

Start Up’s success is gaining so much traction that it’s currently being evaluated by a team of researchers from UTS, Macquarie University and the University of Newcastle. Riding off this wave of recognition, the incubator will spread its wings to Tamworth in early 2020.

Challenge is seeking program mentors in Tamworth for the Regional Entrepreneurship Challenge, a similar program to Start Up, as well as people with intellectual disability who would like to start their own business or become self-employed.

If you would like to know more about Sarah, Jonathan or how your organisation can run a Start Up program, please contact Beth on (02) 4918 1444 or


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