Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Alicia Lasaga, founder and CEO of Autism Worldwide, located in Gainesville, FL, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Autism Worldwide is a growing company that provides ABA Therapy to individuals diagnosed with Autism (ages 2-21). We provide ABA in a natural and caring way. I wanted to start a company where we're able to provide everyday experiences to all the kids we see. We provide art classes, dance classes, music classes, field trips, and even Disney trips.
We want to make sure all kids and teenagers we work with are exposed to different curriculums so they can discover their own passions. In addition to a traditional school curriculum like learning to read or talk, our learning centers work with kids on food refusal, social skills, potty training, functional communication, replacement behavior training, and job skills training for teens.
Tell us about yourself
When I started college, I knew one thing only; I wanted to grow up to have a career in helping people. I didn’t know what that meant, but I would find out after many twists and turns. I went back home for the summer and decided I would do some volunteer work at a place called Slomin Family Center for Autism and Related Disabilities.
At this point in my life, I didn’t even know what Autism was and was just excited to be working with kids again. The kids and their parents came in, and I just remember immediately going to interact with them and finding out quickly what their unique interests were and just engaging with them through that. Whether it was playing with circles or playing the same game of pattycake over and over. After those two hours, I knew Autism had to impact communication and social skills but other than that, these were just kids who also wanted to have fun and have a good summer camp experience.
I then became a Special Education teacher and was an RBT after school. I really enjoyed the progress I saw with ABA principles and being able to work 1-1 with my students. I didn’t find a place that bridged that gap between education and ABA, so I decided to open Autism Worldwide.
Two things motivate me daily:
- Seeing the daily progress in each of our kiddos and their long-term progress drives me. Also, it is extremely motivating when their parents see their kid's progress and doing things they never thought their child was capable of doing.
- Seeing new hires that have no ABA experience fall in love with the field and come up with their own ideas and programs to help the students we see.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
My biggest accomplishment as a business owner is consistently doubling the revenue of Autism Worldwide every year since we opened on March 1, 2018. We even maintained the course of doubling every year even through COVID, where we remained open by taking all necessary safety precautions. We did not want to lose the hard-earned progress with our kids.
This doubling means we are able to see more kids but also able to see more employees discover a new career path that they fall in love with. As a business owner, it is so important to inspire your employees to be proud of themselves and to make them fall in love with their jobs every day.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
The hardest part of my business is having to deny services to kids with Autism due to insurance barriers. For example, some insurances prevent services for those diagnosed after the age of 9. Having been a middle and high school special education teacher, I know how valuable services to teenagers can be. It is difficult to turn parents away just because their child missed the diagnosis deadline.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Pick something you love to do. As a business owner, you need to work 80-100 hours a week, so you need to love what you do because it is your life.
- Lead by example. Make sure you are willing to do any job you are willing to ask someone else to do, whether that be cleaning the bathrooms or working with an aggressive child. If something needs to be done, then at the end of the day, it is on you to make sure it gets done, whether that is delegating or doing it yourself. Employees also respect this mentality.
- Treat your employees and clients kindly. Get to know them, and ask them about their day. Make an effort to remember what they tell you. Bring it up in future conversations and show them you care about them.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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