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Diego Mariscal Flips the Narrative on Disability with Entrepreneurship

Diego Mariscal Flips the Narrative on Disability with Entrepreneurship

Headshot of Diego Mariscal alongside Spiffy the interplanetary journalist.

Hey folks, my name is Spiffy, the interplanetary journalist interviewing the best and brightest leaders on Planet Earth. Today I’m interviewing an extraordinary entrepreneur, Diego Mariscal, CEO & Chief Disabled Person at 2Gether-International.

SPIFFY: Hi Diego, you’re looking well today! Tell me, what are you up to at 2Gether-International?

Diego: We are supporting entrepreneurs with disabilities, flipping the narrative around disability. This work moves us closer to a world where disabled people are recognized as masters of industries.

SPIFFY: As they should be recognized! What prompted you to start this?

Diego: I was pissed off. As a disabled person, myself it was easier for me to start side hustles than to have people take me seriously in the workforce. I quickly realized that, like me, other disabled people were constantly overlooked and/or discriminated against in the workspace. 

Society often underestimates disabled people. People often think I am sweet and nice. That may be true. I’m also very demanding, proactive, and very smart. Bottom line: don’t underestimate disabled people. :)

SPIFFY: I sure won’t! How are you creating a more equitable world?

Diego: We use entrepreneurship as a workforce development strategy specifically for disabled people. Using an entrepreneurship framework, we translate the skills disabled people inherently have – like being tenacious, resilient, and creative – into workforce skills. 

Diego Mariscal and entrepreneurs meeting around a table.

[Image courtesy of Diego Mariscal]

SPIFFY: That’s a creative approach to the issue, what benchmarks have you reached recently?

Diego: Thanks, Spiffy, but I think it comes naturally. We recently finished our first cohort of entrepreneurs. I am very pleased with the results. Just yesterday we received an update from one of them outlining how they were able to pivot in light of COVID. Another got their first institutional investment. The overall impact we see is that people are changing the relationship they have with their disability from a characteristic that needs to be fixed or overcome to a quality that allows them to thrive and succeed.

SPIFFY: I get it! You’re flipping their internal narrative so they can take on the external narrative. Have you learned from any of your failures as an entrepreneur? 

Diego: You’re exactly right. After my second Board Meeting, all board members quit on me. I remember wanting to puke. These were people who I greatly admired and who had flown across the country on their own dime to come to our board meeting. It took me years to recover from this incident.  In hindsight, though I was inexperienced in managing meetings and I didn’t present – especially the financial information – in the most digestible way possible. At the same time, these were people who had a lot of academic prestige but lack startup experience. When recruiting them I was more focused on their titles than them actually believing in me and our cause. 

Lesson learned there... Hire people that believe in you while also being willing to challenge you and make you better. 

SPIFFY: I’m glad you’ve overcome that challenge so triumphantly. Have you learned anything else unexpectedly?

Diego: One not-for-profit entrepreneur that I idolized was recently fired from her job because of staff accusations of racism. This for me was a wakeup call. As leaders, we may be idealized by some people, but that does not make us immune to biases and the occasional, even unintentional, racism. As entrepreneurs working on ourselves, on being congruent with our values and on questioning our own assumptions is just as important as the work of our startup.

SPIFFY: You're 100% right – we need to recognize when we're not living up to our values. Thank you for talking to me! I've been around but I feel like I learned a lot from you, Diego.

Diego: Thanks for having me, Spiffy. I'm glad I could help.

Diego is disabled and proud! He is also very passionate about the relationship between disability advocacy, entrepreneurship, and sustainable impact. Diego founded 2Gether-International, an organization that supports entrepreneurs with disabilities and moves us closer to a world where disability is recognized and valued as an asset for business and entrepreneurship.