Dyson Graduate Student Wins Business Plan Competition

Sheri Muth 07

“We are currently securing the funding [for Independence Painting] and hope to begin before the end of 2007.”
— Sheri Muth ‘07

“When I went into the field of rehabilitation counseling, I felt that to be satisfied in my career, it had to be in a ‘helping capacity’– I was not satisfied to just do a ‘job,’” says graduate student Sheri Muth ‘07, winner of the fourth annual Pace Business Plan Competition.

Muth, who this summer will complete a graduate certificate in not-for-profit management with a specialization in social entrepreneurship, epitomizes the concept of social entrepreneurship. Her plan for Independence Painting (IP), an interior painting service that will employ people with disabilities, competed against 11 other business plans submitted by current Pace students and recent alumni.

“Sheri’s work exemplifies our Master of Public Administration (MPA) students’ commitment to creating social value through innovative ideas,” says professor and director of the MPA program Brian Nickerson. The certificate degree is offered through Dyson College’s MPA program.

“While the quality of her plan was outstanding, its underlying mission - providing opportunity for the disabled - was more impressive. Sheri demonstrated an efficient and effective means for advancing the independence of people with disabilities through job training and regular employment,” adds Bruce Bachenheimer, clinical professor of management and program director of entrepreneurship, at Pace’s Lubin School of Business.

An experienced practitioner with a mission
With 25 years of experience operating rehabilitation programs for people with disabilities that includes running a successful cleaning business, Muth wanted to start a business that would benefit both those individuals and the hiring company. IP pairs a service market need with people who could be trained with a skill not requiring extensive education, creating job opportunities where few existed before. After some research into job opportunities that met these criteria, IP was born.

Muth, director of Employment and Community Day Services for Jawonio, Inc., a Rockland and Westchester county-based rehabilitation organization, says that she learned a great deal by participating in the contest. “It forced me to step out of my comfort zone and take a risk by writing the plan, submitting it for experts to review, and then pitching it,” she says. For her efforts, Muth won $500 and a private meeting with a venture capitalist.

“We are currently securing the funding and hope to begin before the end of 2007. We have agreements from two social funders, and are working on a commitment from our foundation for the start-up funding,” says Muth.

The Independence Painting concept
Independence Painting will be an interior painting service focusing on recurring contracts for commercial office complexes, schools, and not-for-profit organizations. IP will provide intensive job training and on-the-job support through social service funding to facilitate a reliable labor pool. In the summer, IP will collaborate with the Youth Bureau for an employment program for special-needs youth and college interns for work leadership/service learning. The collaboration will provide work leadership and role modeling for the youth, and leadership skill-building/service learning for the college students while in a real-life work setting. Pace students interested in marketing internships, start-up possibilities, and research on other social-business concepts should contact Muth at 845-639-3540 or sheri.muth@jawonio.org.

In addition to parent company Jawonio, IP is a collaborative model that draws upon state funding for training; low-cost long-term supports, if necessary; summer youth work funding; and the local community to reach the goal of training and independent employment of people with disabilities, in addition to running a productive business with satisfied customers. The successful employment of people with disabilities reduces the cost of government benefits, establishes tax-paying citizens in our communities, decreases enrollments in high-cost day programs, and provides a needed business service to the community.

According to Muth, “People with disabilities are the most underemployed but eligible-to-work population in the United States, including New York. Statistics have shown that people with disabilities want to work and are reliable workers requiring limited, low-cost supports. The IP social enterprise business plan outlines a new way to combine the painting industry with rehabilitation supports to do business differently - with quality and competitiveness - that is ‘self supporting and supportive.’”