Addressing inequalities faced by disabled business owners

Earlier this year, The Lilac Review has been launched with backing from the Government to address the inequalities faced by disabled business owners, who make up a quarter of all entrepreneurs in the UK. Spearheaded by Small Business Britain, the Review aims to level up entrepreneurial opportunity across the UK. Martyn Sibley is on the Steering Board of the Review. He is a business strategist helping organisations design accessible and inclusive goods, services, and workplaces for the 1.3-billion-person disability market. He lives with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), which means he can’t walk, or lift anything heavier than a book. He has been voted Britain’s third most influential disabled person and founded Accomable (sold to Airbnb) and Disability Horizons magazine (the UK’s fastest growing disability lifestyle publication).

Here, SME Magazine chats to Martyn, pictured above, and dives deeper into his business, as well as his involvement in the Lilac Review.

  1. Martyn, tell us about your business – when did you set it up and what was the thinking behind it?

My current business, Purple Goat, is almost four years old. It was created off the back of many experiences in my personal and professional life. Having Spinal Muscular Atrophy and being in a power wheelchair to get around, my lived experience of disability has showed me both the barriers and the solutions to life with a disability. Since working at the disability charity Scope straight after completing my master’s degree, I learned a great deal about the global scale and impact of disability exclusion. Then using social media content, entrepreneurship and campaigning strategies, all of my businesses (Disability Horizons magazine, and Accomable travel acquired by Airbnb) have connected disabled people to large institutions such as business, government, media and so forth. Purple Goat specifically exists to close the gap in representation of disabled people in marketing, with all of the business benefits that brings for global consumer brands.

  1. What do you enjoy the most about being an entrepreneur?

I remember reading a long time ago that entrepreneurship can be a tool to take the world’s biggest problems and solve them at scale. When we look at the history of disability rights there are many examples of great people, and positive organisations, with lots of great progress, but unfortunately, we’ve faced bigger opposition along the way. A big reason I love entrepreneurship is purely as a tool for social change and disability inclusion. I prefer the term ‘social entrepreneurship’, because that speaks to the broader benefit and outcomes from such a business. Of course there’s lots of other personal positives such as autonomy, flexibility, being my own boss, building a team, collaborating across sectors, being creative and doing something I love every day. But making the world more inclusive is the big one!

  1. What advice would you give someone thinking about setting up their own business?

In the early days of my entrepreneurial career running the magazine and starting the travel business I would have been a lot fluffier in my advice. This isn’t to say I don’t have positives and upbeat lessons to share now! There are definitely lots of tips around thinking big, leaning into talents, and finding your tribe along the way. But in scaling Purple Goat as big as it has become, I also have advice around pacing yourself, knowing your limits, looking after our health, and seeing it as a marathon not a sprint. I definitely learned the hard way around putting health first and finding a work-life balance. But this is all part of the journey and part of the fun.

  1. What does being on the Steering Board for The Lilac Review mean to you?

All of my working life, and life in general, has been about achieving personal goals and sharing my experiences for the benefit of others. I say this because when I was younger and I was lucky enough to meet disabled role models, it gave me so much to dream about and aim for. As they say, seeing is believing. So as the lilac review evolves and structural barriers are removed, it will pave the way for disabled founders to flourish. But I think the biggest value for the next generation of disabled entrepreneurs is hearing from and seeing founders like those of us on the steering group. I get a lot of satisfaction from meeting with or mentoring founders at the start of their journey.

  1. Sum up your business in three words.

Disruptive. Community. Inclusion.

For more information on The Lilac Review, click here.