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Aarti Sahgal: Building a World Where People with Disabilities Belong

Aarti Sahgal: Building a World Where People with Disabilities Belong


Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs. 

Welcome back! Spiffy here, your interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs working to make this world more equitable. Today I’m super excited to speak with Aarti Sahgal, founder and CEO of Synergies Work.

Spiffy: Thanks for joining me, Aarti! Tell me, what challenge are you addressing at Synergies Work?

Aarti: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! Our purpose is to build a world where people with disabilities belong. To create a world where everyone, no matter who they are, can shine brightly. We firmly believe that all of us have special gifts and talents. You can have a gift of hand, a gift of heart, or a gift of head. People with disabilities are sometimes not seen or heard, or they are unfairly thought of as less than others. We want them to be seen, heard, and valued for the incredible people they are.

Spiffy: What motivated you to do it?

Aarti: What motivated me to start Synergies Work is a promise I made to my younger son, who has Down syndrome. When he was born, I vowed to provide him with the same opportunities as my older son, to help him reach his full potential. This promise is the driving force behind my work with families like ours and individuals with disabilities. I believe in challenging the soft bigotry of low expectations and striving to create an equitable world with equal opportunities for everyone. I want to break down the barriers that may hold people with disabilities back from pursuing their dreams and starting their own businesses. 

Spiffy: Very inspiring! How would you say that your organization is working towards a more equitable world?

Aarti: We provide a range of resources and programs to support disabled founders. These resources are designed not only to help them start and grow their businesses but also to close the knowledge gap, financial gap, and social network gaps. There is an Igniting Ideas program for aspiring founders. Also, there is an Impact to Incubation program for growing startups to scale sustainably. Finally, there is Community Hub, an online platform that offers guidance, funding opportunities, coaching, and connections with other disabled founders.

Spiffy: Tell me about a recent organizational milestone or initiative. What impact does it make on your audience/community?

Aarti: We did some really exciting things this year! First, we started something called the Synergies Market. It's the first online store where businesses owned by people with disabilities can sell their stuff. This helps them and gives people a place to find cool things to buy. All shops and businesses are owned by people with disabilitiescreating a centralized hub for consumers and companies to connect with them. Additionally, we have launched the nation's first Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) to provide microloans and financial support services to small business owners with disabilities, further empowering our community. We're helping them with money and advice to make their dreams come true.

Spiffy: Wow! Please share an experience when you faced failure and didn’t give up. What did you learn from it?

Aarti: When I started Synergies Work, some people didn't believe in helping entrepreneurs with disabilities. They said others had tried and failed before me. But for me, it was about fulfilling a dream and a promise I made to myself when my younger son was born with Down syndrome. Along the way, I found people who believed in me, and that's what it takesjust one person who believes in you. I had business leaders and friends who gave their time, people who gave money, and others who encouraged me when things were tough. I never lost sight of why I was doing what I was doing, and I always believed in myself.

Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?

Aarti: Synergies Work is proud to announce the second annual EDDIE Awardsa groundbreaking awards ceremony dedicated to spotlighting and elevating entrepreneurs within the disability community who are helping build a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem and innovating in their respective fields. EDDIE stands for Entrepreneurs Dedicated to Diverse and Inclusive Excellence.

Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Aarti—it’s been an honor!

Aarti Sahgal is the founder and CEO of Synergies Work, the largest startup hub supporting entrepreneurs with disabilities from ideas to sustainability. As a parent of a young adult with Down syndrome, she is constantly challenging the soft bigotry of low expectations that excludes people with disabilities from living their true potential. (Nominated by Josef Scarantino at Hubspot Ventures. First published on the Ladderworks website on January 31, 2024.)

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Ladderworks LLC.

© 2024 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Sujit Kunte. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.