Canberra Go for Gold Scholarship winner has earned multiple awards

YasminYasmine Gray’s passion for travel and her commitment to helping make travel accessible to all those with a disability led her to apply for an MS Society “Go for Gold Scholarship” in 2014. She successfully applied for funding to allow her to purchase a personal travel scooter and to start a small internet business.

A business is born

Only six months after winning one of the MSL scholarships, she registered the business name “GetAboutAble”.  The company that she founded operates a website to allow people to post and share information about accessible travel, accommodation, leisure and adventure opportunities for people living with a disability. It empowers people with impaired mobility, vision and hearing and indeed the whole range of accessibility needs to participate in travel and leisure. The company also undertakes advocacy on behalf of people with accessibility needs and advises and assists travel service providers in developing and adapting their service offerings to tap into the growing and under-recognised market.

We asked Yasmine how she found out how to set up a web-based platform and how to set up her own company. Yasmine confessed, “I have no technical skills. I can’t believe I had the audacity to set up an internet-based company when I had no IT skills. In fact, I used the Go for Gold money and some of my own money to hire a website developer who developed the initial platform. Once the website developer was hired it took around four months to go out for testing and by the end of six months was live. When the business started getting some recognition and growing, I teamed up with two technical guys who now have equity in the company.”

On the business side, Yasmine did a lot of reading and sought legal and accounting advice about registering her business. She says, “it wasn’t really complicated. In fact, the hardest part was coming up with a name that could be used for both the company registration and the website that wasn’t already taken!” Although Yasmine now has two technical business partners, she still finds it fulfilling and rewarding to remain as engaged with the business as possible. As the Founding Director her role is to provide the strategic direction and look after the networking and business promotion. Yasmine emphasises that she works very closely with her co directors. “As in any start-up business, we work as a team to ensure that anything that needs to get done is done as best we can.”

Awards and recognition start flooding in

We asked Yasmine about the amazing recognition that her business has achieved. The first award landed in 2017 when the GetAboutAble website won an ACT Government Inclusion Award for Innovation in Web Design.  In 2019 the company won the Australia -wide Microsoft “Artificial Intelligence for Accessibility Challenge” after presenting as finalists in Sydney. “That was incredibly exciting and opened a lot of doors for us.” At the end of 2019 they won the ACT Region Tourism Award for Specialised Tourism Services which, in turn,  made GetAboutAble a national finalist in the prestigious 2019 Qantas Australian Tourism Awards. In 2020, GetAboutAble has already won a Lux Travel and Tourism Award for their Accessible Directory.

Never content to rest on their laurels, towards the end of last year, GetAboutAble applied for the right to initiate a Crowd Funding campaign as part of the Mill House Social Enterprise Accelerator Program to host an Asia Pacific Accessible Tourism Conference and Expo in Canberra. Having succeeded in raising the necessary funds. Sadly, this conference has had to be postponed due to the Covid 19 Virus.

The importance of flexibility and collaboration

Yasmine found it difficult to estimate how much time she spends on this extraordinarily successful business. She confided, “I really only have a couple of hours of functional energy on any given day.  So, I suppose I might spend 10 to 15 hours a week on the business. However, a core principal for me in designing the business was to build in provision for the fact that, like others with MS, I have peaks and troughs. This flexibility was built into my design for the business. In the end, I always have to have a contingency plan for the days when I just can’t function.  That might even be the day when I am supposed to be leading a company presentation in Sydney for a major national award. I work when I can, and I take a back seat when I can’t.” Yasmine added, “A lot of my networking and social media is done when I’m in bed in my pyjamas. It feels like a hobby because I love what I do so much.”

Once she had won her first award, Yasmine recognised the need for business partners and fellow investors to build the business. To this end, she used the Canberra Innovation Network to pitch for her future co directors and tested them out on quite a few thorny problems before securing them as equity partners in the business. The company that Yasmine founded is classified as a “Social Enterprise” as it is operated for purpose, more than profit. However, the company needs to be sustainable and has begun to generate income.  Yasmine hopes that her young collaborators will in due course be able to retire from their day jobs and work on this business full time.

How a Go for Gold Scholarship can help achieve a dream

We asked Yasmine what advice she would give someone considering applying for an MS Society Go for Gold Scholarship. She enthused, “Absolutely, go for it. The Go for Gold scholarship gave me the confidence to pursue my dream. It was the first step. Realising that others could see merit in my idea was a big thrill. I wouldn’t have started the business without the scholarship. I’m very glad that I applied.”

Dealing with the challenges of running a company and living with MS

Yasmine’s story wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the challenges she has faced.  She said, “my biggest challenge has been managing my energy levels and learning not to say ‘yes’ to every opportunity. There are many times when I struggle to get through the day. There are occasions when my hired carer fails to turn up. Those days are a disaster. I feel absolutely exhausted. Life is not perfect. I try to always have a contingency plan. If I have to do a presentation interstate I never know if I’m going to be OK after the stress of travel, or if my interim carer is going to turn up. So, one of my co-directors often comes with me and is effectively my understudy. He has to be ready to step in and do the presentation if I’m incapacitated for any reason. Sometimes I need to get up at 5.30 am to do a media interview and still be functioning late the same day. Sometimes a critical business engagement conflicts with a non-negotiable specialist appointment. Sometimes I have to make really difficult choices between the business and my health, although my priority should be, and usually is, my health. If I don’t respect this priority, I always suffer the consequences.”

“I often feel frustrated by my limitations. I’ll never be able to work dependably again. That has been very hard for me to accept. But I think my story really illustrates what you can do if you’re prepared to be flexible and if you have a bit of drive and imagination.  This business is something I really enjoy doing. I find it fulfilling and it keeps my mind active. And the beauty of it is that not only does it give me a reason for getting out of bed in the morning and remaining optimistic about life, but I can do a lot of what I need to do while I’m in bed!”

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Find out more about the MS Society’s Go for Gold scholarships.

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