Turning Barriers Into Business Opportunities w/ STIL Solutions


With Hillary Scanlon, Founder and CEO at STIL Solutions, we discussed how to bridge the gap between accessibility and sustainability and uncovered insights into turning barriers to (sustainability) behaviours into business opportunities.

About STIL Solutions

STIL (Sustainability Through an Inclusive Lens) Solutions founder Hillary Scanlon lost her vision unexpectedly and suddenly in 2016. Hillary, only one year later, turned her frustration with the inaccessibility of built-in environments and the inability to participate in sustainability initiatives into a business opportunity.

Her social enterprise intends to bridge the gap between sustainability and accessibility in the area of waste management. It provides organizations with WasteFinder, a shape-and-colour-based waste management system for public spaces, accessible to people of all abilities.

WasteFinder installed in a public space.

STIL Solutions has already been working with 18 customers across Ontario, creating more inclusive spaces for people with vision loss, people living with blindness, young children who cannot yet read, or people who do not speak the language commonly used on signage. It also contributes to the standardization of waste management.

The end goal is to "empower everyone to be a steward of their environment and divert as much waste as possible from landfill." Hillary wants to make all public spaces accessible to people of all abilities from a sustainability perspective for the years to come.

To support STIL Solutions, follow them on Instagram and check out their website. You can also spread the word about their initiative and contact them if you want to implement their solution!

Insights Into Turning Lack of Accessibility Into Business Opportunities

Barrier Identification

It comes down to understanding the behaviours necessary for the cause you want to participate in (e.g. being more environmentally friendly) and asking yourself whether everyone can participate in that cause, regardless of their ability.

By applying this approach to your context, you can turn barriers into business opportunities by removing them. "It is important to recognize these gaps and act upon them," Hillary underlines.

Acknowledging Some Potential Challenges

Sometimes, technology might not always be the answer to your problem. For instance, Hillary wants to address the accessibility of built-in environments to participate in sustainability initiatives and did not want to "place the responsibility of accessibility on the individual with the disability to have data on their phone and download an app."

However, it can be more challenging to access funding without it. Also, when tapping into something innovative, it might become imperative to spend time and resources educating people to build credibility instead of focusing solely on growing. Moreover, very few women-led startups receive VC funding.

For these reasons, it can be easy to burn out while running a low-tech social enterprise as a woman.

Ideas To Help You Thrive

We uncovered a set of factors that might help you thrive, despite the difficulties.

First, it is crucial to understand that you need to enjoy the process and not only the end goal itself. So, make sure to put systems in place to enjoy your entrepreneurial journey and take care of yourself along the way. 

Also, having a clear understanding of what you are trying to achieve is necessary to ensure your actions are always aligned with your objectives and avoid strategic drift.

Finally, constant and ongoing communication with the community and stakeholders is essential. Hillary highlights that "people with disabilities with diverse backgrounds and experiences" informed all of her business decisions. She indicates this has allowed her to ensure her products will make a real impact. So, be always open to expanding your network and gathering feedback.

Inspiration to Go!

Disability is one of the only marginalized identities that we are all going to experience at some point in our lives because of injuries, temporary illnesses, age, among others. So, even if you think that this might not apply to you now, it is within everyone's best interest to make the environment more accessible.

Thanks so much for reading this post!

If you are a social entrepreneur and would like to share your story, reach out to me via LinkedIn. I am looking forward to it!

This article was updated on June 8, 2021

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Nadia Humbert-Labeaumaz

Entrepreneur, consultant, biosciences and software engineer, working on projects enabling positive impact.