The Chicagoland AUI Business Incubator

Team: Fabricio Balcazar (Principal Investigator), Shawn Dimpfl (Project Coordinator)

Role: Overall program manager and evaluator, U.S. Department of Labor liaison, journal article co-author, and video producer

Methods and Tools: Focus groups, surveys, interviews, and SPSS

Citation and Journal article link: Balcazar, F. E., Kuchak, J., Dimpfl, S., Sariepella, V., & Alvarado, F. (2014). An empowerment model of entrepreneurship for people with disabilities in the United States. Psychosocial Intervention23(2), 145-150.

Project Overview

The Add Us In (AUI) Initiative was a program funded by the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). The initiative was designed to identify and develop strategies to increase employment opportunities within the small business community for individuals with disabilities. Our consortium was headed by the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and helped underrepresented individuals with disabilities develop business plans, obtain start-up funding, launch their own businesses, and provided ongoing support. 

Disability-stats (1)

The model we created addressed the disparities in labor force participation among people with disabilities and their preference for self-employment by promoting empowerment and facilitating economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities through entrepreneurship.


Interested individuals with disabilities that contacted us to participate in the program went through the following process: 

  • The first step was an intake interview to determine eligibility, participant attributes, and the person’s business goals. 
  • Once accepted into the program participants opened a Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) case with the Department of Rehabilitation Services in order to obtain matching grant funds which ranged from $10,000 to $100,000.
  • Participants were enrolled in a business plan writing class we created at UIC. The plans were then submitted to our panel to be awarded a $5,000 start-up grant. 
  • Participants continued to receive one-on-one business mentorship to help launch their business, follow up interview calls were made to track their overall progress, and they were given the opportunity to be residents at our business incubator. 


In addition to helping over 25 entrepreneurs with disabilities launch their own businesses during the course of the research project. We were able to leverage the state of Illinois to fund a business incubator program for $3 million dollars over 5 years specifically for people with disabilities, the first of its kind in the country. 

There were many success stories but the best way to understand the true impact of the program is to watch the video I produced about one of our entrepreneurs.  She is chef who is blind.  Through AUI, we helped her achieve her dream of opening her own restaurant. 

To learn more about the program and our other entrepreneurs you can read the journal article I co-authored here.