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In Search of Excellence: COARE Enterprises
by Liz Fretz
COARE Enterprises: People with Disabilities Establishing Entrepreneurial Opportunities for Themselves

Please introduce yourself:

Diana D'Agostino ~ Diana has taken an Office Administration Executive Program at Sheridan College. While at College she took a Multimedia course and created a multimedia presentation drawn from the Internet. She is familiar with the Internet and uses it regularly for research. Diana takes on much of the responsibility for organizing tasks, and for ensuring that the operational needs of the group are met.

Dulcinea Dos Santos ~ Dulcinea attended a two year business program at Sheridan College and is currently upgrading her skills in Accounting. She volunteers in a number of community organizations and is part of the Mentorship program at Erinoak Children's Treatment Centre. In COARE, Dulcinea provides leadership as a facilitator, as producer of letterhead, forms and other business materials. She is an avid networker, and through her many community contacts is able to add to the group's resources.

Rex Stephenson ~ Rex has a Media Arts Writing Certificate Diploma from Sheridan College. He has been published in several local newspapers, magazines and textbooks. He has run a Desktop Publishing business part time for 5 years. Rex, utilizing his experience in a leadership role in the group and working with Diana, is able to produce most of the written materials required. Rex is very experienced with the Internet, and carries out much of the group's research efforts in this medium. He is the acknowledged leader of the group's business efforts.

Jerrett Bennink ~ Jerrett has completed high school. He has used the computer for communications purposes since he was a small child, and is comfortable with most applications. He assists the group by typing dictated minutes of meetings, and by handling the administrative tasks such as photocopying, computer software troubleshooting and assisting with equipment set up.

Jason Denham ~ Jason has completed high school. Jason is a very spontaneous associative thinker; he supplies a keen wit and creativity in brainstorming ideas. Jason is quite an accomplished artist and his work is featured in COARE Enterprises Exhibit J line of products. He also assists in fulfillment of orders and supports the promotion of the business.

Tell us about your business ~ COARE Enterprises is a Canadian Internet E-commerce company specializing in quality products to enhance the daily living of people with disabilities and seniors. COARE Enterprises has an extensive line of high grade Australian sheepskin products. Products like sheepskin wheelchair seat covers, sheepskin bed blankets, sheepskin slippers and moccasins. COARE also has a couple lines of quality diabetic and edema socks. COARE offers incontinence products, wheelchair sports gloves, various accessories and biodegradable soap products. The company also sells products featuring the work of artists with disabilities. COARE also offers a line of telecommunication services such as long-distance, calling cards and Internet.

How did you get started in this business? ~ COARE Enterprises is a Canadian web site lifestyle company that distributes products and services to people with disabilities, seniors and families. COARE stands for Creative Opportunities And Reality Expressions. In October 1997 COARE Enterprises held its first meeting with the assistance of CEEP (Community Entrepreneurial Enterprises Project). CEEP, which consists of some board members of Erinoak Rehabilitation Centre, community members and members of COARE, was designed to help people with disabilities establish entrepreneurial opportunities for themselves.

COARE Enterprises consists of five partners with varying abilities. In order to determine if COARE could work together as a cohesive unit, the group conducted a pilot project in November 1997. They purchased 150 designer mugs with an artistic rendering of a wheelchair with the slogan "The Faster The Better" to raise capital funds for future business opportunities and give group members the chance to gain business experience. This stock was sold out in two weeks, packaged and delivered by the members. During this period, the group learned how to work together, supported each other and shared tasks so that each could accomplish their goal.

The slogan "The Faster The Better" has double meaning to all the members of COARE, both as individuals and as business partners. COARE feels that the slogan is a representation of how they view the growth of their company's development in the past, present and future. "The Faster The Better" also expresses how the company intends to provide products and services to its customers.

In January 1998, COARE came up with a product idea, and after the pilot, COARE explored a number of potential businesses such as retail, fulfillment, consulting and determined that an Internet based business would provide the best potential for success.

What was your greatest career challenge and how did you over come it? ~ Rex's greatest career challenge was finding a job where his writing skills and schooling could be used in an effective, creative and fulfilling way. Rex overcame this by creating his own job that allowed him to use his talents in a way that was effective, creative and fulfilling. He helped create COARE Enterprises.

Do you work out of your house? What challenges do you face working at home and how do you deal with them? ~ Yes, we at COARE Enterprises work out of our homes. One of the challenges of working from home is self-discipline. You have to be able to push yourself to work when needed. Work from home can be difficult at times because it's very easy to just say, "I don't feel like working today". On the other hand of self-discipline, is knowing when to stop working and quit for the day. The best way to handle this challenge is task scheduling. Assign tasks each day and try to compete as many as possible. You also have to remember to schedule in your breaks as well.

Another challenge of working at home is knowing how to deal with frustration. The best way to deal with frustration is to back away from the situation and take a break.

What sets you apart from your competitors? ~ We are our customers. We know what we want therefore we provide the customer with the products or services to best meet their needs. The fact we have various disabilities ourselves, we can talk to customers with a better knowledge of what they want to see in a product. Customers also have a better comfort level talking us because we have more understanding of their needs.

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What accomplishment(s) are you most proud of? ~ COARE is proud of celebrating their first year in business and being able to do so in the black. Being able to do motivational presentation to others with disabilities. COARE is also proud of our ability to come together as a team to pursue the common goal of making a better life for all of us.

Are there any books, classes, or other sources of education that you found helpful when you were starting up? ~ The business education all five members of COARE received from the Halton/Peel Enterprise Centre funded by Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC). This program ran 52-weeks and gave COARE access to a number of successful business people in all areas of business. COARE also has an advisory committee of business professionals from the local business community. This advisory committee has been invaluable to COARE and all its members in making any number of difficult business decisions.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone just starting up, what would it be? ~ Have a business plan made out and don't get discouraged when you don't have instant success.

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