Venture Founders: Autism Conference Provides Customer Validation and a Pivot

Author: Valeria Gonzalez

Alison Hennessy, Claire Kleinschmidt, Natalie MayAlison Hennessy, Claire Kleinschmidt, Natalie May

Natalie May, Alison Hennessy, and Claire Kleinschmidt joined ESTEEM’s second Venture Founders Program cohort in hopes of creating a business model out of a solution to a problem that affects a group of people they are passionate about. Natalie voiced her love for the Autism community which stemmed from her younger sister, Emilee, who is 21 and has Autism. Alison and Claire shared a similar love for individuals with Autism, and teamed up to start finding a problem that the community faces. After an “emotional rollercoaster” with interviewing parents to target the pain points of this community, and many name changes, the women have created Runway.

The original idea for this company was trying to create employment opportunities for individuals with Autism. A trip to the CARD conference in Florida put Runway in front of a lot of parents and experts in the field to try and validate this problem. However, parents voiced a different problem that the women had not considered. A big concern of parents of Autistic individuals is how to use their child’s unique skills to transition them from high school into the rest of their lives. Parents are told to start planning for this transition when their child is 14, meaning they have a few years to plan the rest of their child’s life. Parents do not have support throughout this process and it is clear that there is a lack of communication among all the stakeholders in the child’s life. 

Img 3519

This problem was reinforced by an experience that Emilee had when she was 14 and arrived home from school very upset, but was unable to express her grief due to a vocal impediment. A month later, her parents found out that the reason for their daughter’s mood change was that her favorite counselor had left the school district, and they were upset that they had not been notified. Emilee suffered due to the fact that no one else in the district understood her needs and personality as well as this counselor.

Because of this disconnect in communication and lack of resources for parents, the women are creating an interactive platform that allows stakeholders in an Autistic individual’s life to better communicate. This will be a tool and living record that can move with the child after high school and the data created can be used to create a transition plan.

Individuals with Autism enjoy structure and parents are anxious about the future of their child. The women hope to provide a runway, hence the name, for Autistic individuals to smoothly transition past high school and for parents to have an ease of mind in regards to the future of their child.

Runway is currently part of the McCloskey Business Competition at Notre Dame, PENN Business Competition, and the Edupitch Competition.