Did you know that over 80% of autistic adults are unemployed? Coding Autism’s founder, Oliver Thornton, is on a mission to change that. Coding Autism presents a unique solution that trains autistic adults for technical roles.
What is your business, and what problem you are solving?
Coding Autism is a for-profit social enterprise and EdTech company based out of San Francisco. We widen the STEM funnel by providing unique training programs to individuals with autism.
The key problem we solve is the unemployment rate of autistic adults, which exceeds 80%. Specifically, we focus on training individuals for technical roles. While the United States is expected to have more than 1M technical roles by 2020, there are few technical training opportunities specifically designed for autistic adults.
Recognizing the forecasted volume of job vacancies available for technical roles in the future, I was inspired to build what is now Coding Autism.
What inspired you to start your company?
My personal background and research into the autism community inspired me to start Coding Autism. When I was two years old, I was diagnosed with autism. My older brother was also diagnosed shortly before I was. Despite our doctors predictions that my brother and I would never live normal lifestyles, we were both able to learn adequate social skills, graduate from high school, and pursue a college education.
While in college, I was inclined to research autism in more detail. I discovered the staggering unemployment statistics of autistic adults. Upon recognizing the forecasted volume of job vacancies available for technical roles in the future, I was inspired to build what is now Coding Autism.
What is your mission?
Through my efforts with Coding Autism, my goal is to have at least 1,500 autistic adults successfully trained and employed by 2020.
Our overall vision for Coding Autism is to change the narrative around people with disabilities through partnerships, communities, and education. We hope to challenge stigmas by helping people with disabilities develop skills that lead to independence, meaningful work, and meaningful relationships.
Who is in your core team? How did your team come together?
Austen and I are childhood friends. While at university, we both developed an interest in coding. He had just finished a coding bootcamp course when I came up with the idea for Coding Autism. It was perfect timing and we decided that we wanted to collaborate with each other to make it happen.
The next year involved extensive R&D and launching a rewards-based crowdfunding campaign on StartSomeGood. Andrea contributed to the campaign, and we were so impressed by her passion for the venture that we invited her to join the team. Our team has been collaborating day in and day out since.
Please explain your edge over your competition.
In comparison to our competitors, Coding Autism provides an immersive coding curriculum that is specifically designed for autistic individuals. Our curriculum covers both the technical training as well as soft skills development in a non-traditional format geared towards autistic students.
All of our staff brings experience in training and coaching autistics, is on the autism spectrum themselves, or has close affiliations with autistics through family or friends. This provides a genuine and unique angle in our instruction and curriculum that is simply not provided by our competitors.
What are your interests and passions outside of your company?
I am a huge fan of music, sports, and real estate—I’m actually a licensed real estate agent. In my free time I love going to music festivals, and have been to 30 so far. I also enjoy tennis, and have competed in the sport for 14 years, including throughout college.
Simply put, our workforce and communities have to adjust to this rapidly growing autistic population.
What’s the biggest you believe your company can become?
1 out of 68 children born in the United States are born with autism. According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2014 there were roughly 3.5 million autistic Americans. Simply put, our workforce and communities have to adjust to the rapidly growing autistic population, which is where a lot of avenues open up for our business model for both B2C and B2B.
What is your favorite book?
My favorite book is Zero to One by Peter Thiel. I am a firm believer in his philosophy on start-up development and what it takes to build the innovations of our future.
What are three skills you believe make a good leader?
The ability to listen to others
If you had $1M to invest, where would you put it (you can’t invest in your own company).
I would invest this money into cryptocurrencies and real estate. Cryptocurrencies have the potential to provide exceptional returns. Real estate is also an area of investment medium that I offer extensive knowledge in.*
Who was an early inspiration?
My brother was by far my most inspirational character when I was young. Also diagnosed with autism, it was inspiring to see him overcome many challenges throughout his childhood. My brother taught me not let an autism diagnosis get in the way of your dreams. That drive encouraged me to pursue my ambition to develop Coding Autism.
Do you have any mentors?
I look to successful entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Mark Cuban, and Jeff Bezos for inspiration and mentorship. My personal mentors are my parents, my brother, and my supportive community through Hub 101, California Lutheran University, and Los Angeles.
Check out Coding Autism's campaign here.
* The view is the personal opinion of the interviewee and should not be construed as investment advice from either the interviewee nor Republic.