Economic development effort: Herneses aiding disabled

Fairmont natives Ben Hernes and Anna (Hernes) Substad recently won first place in a competition to help people with disabilities.

The siblings participated in the 2020 Destination Medical Center Assistive Tech Challenge Virtual Pitch Competition through Mayo Clinic.

“It’s an economic development initiative that supports Minnesota as a global destination for health,” Ben said. “The goal of the challenge is facilitating greater independence for individuals with disabilities.”

Ben and Anna began working on their idea in January. The competition was initially set to take place in person April 2, but COVID-19 pushed it back to June 2, and it took place virtually.

There are different categories for ideas. The siblings pitch was on alleviating barriers to employment.

“We had three minutes to give our pitch,” Ben said. “It’s a job board called RecruitABLE. It’s for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It will have distinct characteristics that differentiate it from your regular job board.”

He said it could include videos of a candidate working, since a paper resume may not be something employers are interested in. However, if they can see someone interacting with customers, that would connect them.

“We’re hoping to capture the whole persona of the employee rather than just a traditional resume,” Anna said.

Anna graduated from the nursing program at Bethel and currently works at Children’s Hospital in St. Paul. Ben is a junior at Bethel. He has had an interest in the medical field but is currently studying business and finance.

Ben noted that Bethel has a Build program, which is a college opportunity for people with IDD.

“Anna and I were both involved with the Build program at Bethel,” he said. “We have an aunt with Down’s syndrome, which got us involved in Special Olympics and that whole sphere. At Bethel, we were both pretty involved in the Build program, and from those ties we learned about the Assistive Tech Challenge.”

While Ben and Anna came up with the idea, they worked with an advisory board. The internship coordinator for students in the Build program served as an adviser, as did the parents of a student in the Build program.

When preparing for the competition, a partnership was lined up with The Arc Minnesota. The Arc provides information and assistance to support people with IDD and their families statewide. The marketing director for The Arc Minnesota also served as an adviser.

“The Arc is going to house the job board, which is great,” Ben said.

Ben and Anna’s idea took first place in the community division and received $5,000. They will use the money to license the software and fund a team.

Once they buy the licensing, they will work with The Arc on a trial run with self-advocates with IDD and Build students.

“We’re starting with employers in the Twin Cities and Rochester. We’ll start with a pilot group of a half dozen employers to get profiles set up,” Ben said.

When asked what kind of employers are looking for people with IDD, Ben explained that for a lot of companies it’s not just about filling a quota.

“A lot of companies have an initiative to make their workforces more inclusive,” Ben said

“Research has shown the success if businesses with inclusive initiatives,” Anna said. “Businesses are more successful on several different platforms when they’re more inclusive so that’s something that a lot of companies are striving for.”


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