This past month, we had the opportunity to catch up with Laura Pinault, former member of the RBC EPIC Founders Program and co-founder of Aphasia Friendly Canada, a non-profit that provides Canadian businesses training and resource development support to better understand the communication disorder, Aphasia.
School/Faculty you graduated from
Bachelor of Science, Behaviour, Cognition, and Neuroscience (Class of 2016)
Please tell me more about the company you co-founded:
Aphasia Friendly Canada, a project of the Words in the World Social Science and Humanities Research Training Partnership Grant led by Dr. Lori Buchanan, is a disabilities service provider committed to
(1) delivering professional training workshops about aphasia and communication disorders to local businesses,
(2) hosting skills sessions and activities for people living with aphasia and other communication disabilities, and
(3) hosting caregiver support sessions and education for caregivers and family members of loved ones living with aphasia. Since the project’s inception in Summer 2016, Dr. Lori Buchanan and her team of graduate students, staff, and undergraduate students from the Cognitive Neuropsychology Lab at the University of Windsor have and continue to:
- Train 175 employees from 14 organizations across Ontario on supportive communication strategies and the associated legislative accessibility standards for customer service;
- Advance technology to support people with aphasia in places without speech pathologists through a collaboration with a local company, Wired Solutions;
- Collaborate with speech pathologists across southern Ontario to broadly distribute a quality of life measure to people with aphasia;
- Host adult conversation and caregiver groups at Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare; and
- Partner with the Windsor Regional Hospital’s stroke navigator, so that when someone wakes up with aphasia they know they are supported and that there are businesses here that will be accessible for people with communication disorders.
How did the idea for this company come up?
Aphasia is a language disorder acquired by 1/3 of stroke survivors that affects a person’s ability to speak, read, write, or understand. It is more prevalent than cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and muscular dystrophy, and yet it’s a condition that is largely unknown to the general public. Recognizing this lack of public awareness, Dr. Lori Buchanan proposed that we start Aphasia Friendly Canada. She served and continues to serve as the project’s Director, while I served as the project’s first Associate Director (2016-2017) followed by my colleague Julia Borsatto (MA/Ph.D. Clinical Neuropsychology; 2017-Present). Our market research revealed that free social supports for people with aphasia were limited in the Windsor-Essex community. We set forth on our mission to change that in 2016 and haven’t stopped since!
What lead you to the EPICentre’s RBC EPIC Founders program?
My EPIC Founders project was unique, in that Aphasia Friendly Canada is a non-profit service provider tied to a nation-wide research project, Words in the World. Dr. Buchanan and I first presented the idea for this project at the 2016 University of Windsor’s Innovative Designs for Accessibility competition, where I was awarded first place. After that presentation, the EPICentre staff encouraged me to apply for the Founders program with the idea. I applied and was accepted into the Summer 2016 EPIC Founders cohort. During the program, I focused on laying the groundwork for our service offerings and workshops.
What was the most valuable lesson you learned while completing this program?
Know what problem you’re solving and have an actionable plan to solve it. Throughout the program, we participated in a series of experiential, hands-on workshops facilitated by MaRS. Through these seminars, it became apparent that the success of Aphasia Friendly Canada hinged on:
(a) my ability to clearly articulate what problem I was solving to stakeholders, clients, and prospective organizational partners (i.e., value proposition) and
(b) my commitment to iterating and acting on my plan to solve that problem (i.e., business model canvassing).
What advice would you have for someone considering starting a business?
Find your tribe. Surround yourself with likeminded people, whether they be fellow entrepreneurs or co-creators for your business. These relatable people allow you to get emotional support when things get hard and are there to celebrate your wins! They challenge you to stay on track with your business plan/timeline and are a great source of feedback.
Find time for you. As a work-life balance researcher, I would be remiss to mention the importance of maintaining your sense of self throughout the process of starting a business. As an entrepreneur, you will likely become absorbed in your work. By continuing with activities that you enjoy outside of work, whether that be exercising, traveling, cooking, or spending time with friends/family, you afford your body the opportunity to recharge. You need the energy to tackle the inevitable hurdles of starting a business and by fueling your passions both at and outside of work, you will have the stamina to persist through the wins and losses that inevitably come with starting a business.
Can you tell us a little more about what you’re up to nowadays?
I am a fourth-year doctoral candidate in Industrial/Organizational Psychology at Wayne State University. My interest in diversity and inclusion in the workplace persists today, although it has manifested into a more general and historically marginalized population: women in the workplace. I am currently working on my doctoral dissertation project, also funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council, which explores the impact of organizational and supervisor support of work-life balance on female leader empowerment. I am actively recruiting organizations in Windsor-Essex to partner with me on this research, with the objective of learning more about the human resource policies and leadership practices that bolster (or hinder) individual employees’ work-life balance. If a partnership on this topic may be of interest to your organization, I am available to talk about this further via phone, 3138990476, or email, firstname.lastname@example.org.