More than 50,000 Americans with autism become adults each year, but more than 80 percent of them are unemployed. So how does this population of over 3.5 million autistic U.S. citizens fit into our workforce?
Santa Monica, Calif.-based startup MindSpark is seizing the opportunity to put these under-utilized people into jobs as software testers. The company is hiring autistic adults to test enterprise software and find bugs, and these employees are now testing software for Fortune 500 brands, from Fox Networks Group to Liberty Mutual.
Some autistic people have exceptional gifts for music, arts, mathematics, or literature. Abilities include special talents for sustained focus, superior attention to detail, and complex pattern recognition. Chad Hahn, one of the cofounders of MindSpark, realized the high overlap between the skills needed for software quality assurance and attributes of some of the autistic population, particularly when it comes to the ability to do repetitive tasks without getting bored.
Hahn teamed up with Gray and Wendy Benoist, who were involved in efforts to help people with autism. Together, they started MindSpark three years ago, and now they have more than 30 employees. They expect to grow to more than 100 employees over the next two years, with revenue in 2016 expected to grow 50 percent over 2015. And the company is continuing to pick up high-profile clients.
“Our mission is to use free market forces to drive social change by creating careers in high tech for people with specialized abilities,” said Gray Benoist, president of MindSpark, in a statement. “Our model has been proven to work exceptionally well, and we are clearly exceeding the overall performance of other QA platforms. That’s why our clients stay, and now all are expanding their business with us. Because of their skills, our employees are receiving positive customer feedback of their personal successes, enhancing their self-esteem and supporting their goal of independent lives.”
MindSpark is a Benefit Corporation, with by-laws centered on social responsibility. The business launched in full partnership with SquareOne Solutions, a software developer that needed workers. Together, they are driving social change and empowering autistic employees to improve their overall quality of life. Customers also benefit by meeting their corporate social responsibility goals.
MindSpark’s educational platform, the MindSpark Training Academy, is entirely nonprofit and delivers a fast-turnaround program that prepares analysts for professional work — and compensation — in only a few short months. In turn, talented autistic adults can gain meaningful careers in the technology industry with competitive wages, opportunities for advancement, and — most importantly — true independence and self-sufficiency.
MindSpark clients not only receive superior product analysis, with better service than competing domestic and offshore vendors, but they are also able to meet their corporate social responsibility goals. For client Cast & Crew Entertainment Services, MindSpark’s test case suite reduced release evaluation from two weeks to three days. The model has proven so strong as to drive the fast-growing firm’s expansion across Greater Los Angeles and, ultimately, other metro markets.
MindSpark has completed two major projects for Fox Networks Group. For the Monterey Bay Aquarium, MindSpark created over 500 test cases covering all aspects of the facility’s research site; More than 146 technical defects were discovered and fixed to dramatically improve researcher user experience.
“MindSpark has been a great find for the Fox Networks Group. As we reached a point in our product lifecycle where we needed to add more resources, MindSpark has met our growing needs, providing us with a group of well-trained professionals that consistently deliver,” said Ben Hope, senior vice president and chief information officer for Fox Networks Group, in a statement. “Their team has exceeded our initial expectations. In addition to a very beneficial value proposition – providing us with reasonably priced resources in the same time zone as our development teams – our internal team has thoroughly enjoyed the win-win feeling of this particular business model.”