Innovative Solution Wins SPARK Social Enterprise and Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur Competition
WILMINGTON, Delaware, September 19, 2017 – When Lisa Marie Clinton had the first glimmer of an idea for her educational platform, Avail, building a global business was the furthest thing from her mind. An experienced tutor with a background in applied behavior analysis (ABA), Clinton simply wanted to find a better, more efficient way to help her young students complete daily tasks more independently.
Liam McArdle was three-and-a-half years old and recently diagnosed with autism when Clinton met him. He was non-verbal at the time, but he responded well to visual cues and loved playing and interacting with his iPad. To guide him through a task such as putting on his shoes or understanding his daily activities, Clinton would take a series of pictures, laminate them, and arrange them in sequence to help guide him, task-by-task, through his day. Liam did well with the pictures, but Clinton’s breakthrough inspiration came when she realized that his iPad could be used not only as a motivation and reward, but as an ideal tool for illustrating and reinforcing desired actions and helping Liam through his day.
“Children and adults with disabilities require prompts to live independently and complete daily life activities,” Clinton said. “In ABA, we tend to do this manually, by giving verbal instructions or showing someone how to perform a task through pictures or demonstration. But as I watched Liam interact with his iPad, I thought, ‘Is there not a way we can do this more efficiently using technology? We are already using the iPad to take pictures. If we take pictures, we can add audio, and video, and text.’”
While Clinton knew her solution would need to be technology-based, she had no experience in coding, programming, or setting up a business. With little more than an idea, a few sketches, and, in her words, “a pocket full of passion,” Clinton applied for Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur competition. There she met Gerry Moan, the founder of SmartInvest Ventures, who facilitated the workshop and served as a coach for entrepreneurs who were willing to commit to an intensive experiential mentoring program called SmartBase.
“I walked in with an idea and notes scribbled on paper; I walked out with a business plan and a roadmap to make things happen and build a global business,” Clinton said. “Gerry had us in early and working sometimes until 3:00 AM, in intense sessions with him and the team he pulled in around him to guide us through all aspects of business. Having access to his know-how and his vast network of contacts has been invaluable, particularly in helping me build a tech solution.”
Clinton was initially intimidated by the intensity of the program, but her decision to see it through, and her determination to create an adaptable, accessible, and easy-to-use application that would help people with disabilities, has paid off. Her participation in the mentorship program resulted in Avail, a customizable, self-directed educational platform that serves as a virtual assistant for individuals with disabilities. Avail uses step-by-step instructional supports like videos, pictures, audio, or text prompts of a task, helping individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities live an inclusive and independent life.
Following the successful completion of the SmartBase mentorship program, Clinton and Avail were selected for a $200,000 investment through the SmartInvest Venture Fund. SmartInvest has since received $1mm, with $2mm more committed upon achievement of pre-determined milestones. Avail has attracted global attention, and Clinton has added three staff members in Ireland, one in the United Kingdom, and one in the United States.
Tragically, the sweet boy who inspired this life-changing technology would never have a chance to benefit from the finished product. Liam was diagnosed with an aggressive childhood cancer called DIPG in May 2015 and passed away just a short time later. For Clinton and the many others whose lives he touched, he remains a source of courage and inspiration.
Following Liam’s death, his family set up the Friends of Liam Foundation, a non-profit organization that raises awareness and funds for DIPG research, autism and special needs services, childhood cancer supports, and respite services.
Even as her company experiences worldwide success, Clinton, who serves on the board of the Friends of Liam Foundation, remains as committed as ever to helping individuals with disabilities live a full and independent life, particularly as they reach adulthood. She continues to advocate for children and adults with autism. Clinton carries Liam’s picture with her wherever she goes and tells his story when she speaks at national conferences, as she will in Canada and Australia this September.
“Liam was so full of life and active and fun, and that’s the kind of life I want Avail to make possible for other individuals,” Clinton said. “I want to tell everyone his story because I want him to be known for the independence and the opportunity that he’s providing to other children and to adults.”
About SmartInvest Ventures
SmartInvest Ventures (“SmartInvest”) is an international company that has transformed deal flow in a fundamental way.
Through SmartBase (Experiential Mentoring and Education), SmartStart (Angel Funding) and SmartInvest (existing VC Fund), SmartInvest Ventures will guide companies, from the spot where they begin, to their best endgame, providing all aspects of support – finance, HR, legal, marketing, reporting, budgeting.
The company’s world class board, partners and advisors include John Bruton, former Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland and Board Chair Dr. Allen Sangines-Krause, a global finance executive first with Goldman and now with his own world class $2Bn+ private equity firm. The General Partners Group has over $2BN in asset management experience. SmartInvest’s track record in fund management and startups is entirely due to the proprietary process the company employs to become deeply hands-on. It is quite simply, an ecosystem for discovery and startup, with true global reach, expressed in the global background of the hand-picked Board of Directors, and Advisory board. This mentorship approach is embedded in the company’s credo, is non-negotiable, and is reflected in the impressive track record they have assembled over the last 10 years.
It is SmartInvest’s global platform, an early and steady hands-on approach to its entrepreneurs, and the multi-disciplinary expertise of the SmartInvest team that proves successful over time.
For more information, visit www.smartinvestventures.com
Lisa Marie Clinton, President
SmartVenture and SPARK2.0 Contact:
Gerry Moan, Founder, SmartInvest Ventures
Susan Stipa, McDay