Mike Clark has a simple vision: for Australia to become the world leader in disability services.
Having co-founded Developing Australian Communities with River Night in 2020 – right before the pandemic hit – the two entrepreneurs are taking it one event at a time to spearhead change in the challenging sector.
“The opportunity came on suddenly because we realised the disability sector still required a lot of support, particularly through the pandemic,” Clark tells The CEO Magazine.
The company works closely with service providers, carers and participants at its large expos and conferences in order to simplify the complex nature of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
Through merging Clark’s 17 years of event running experience with Night’s 26 years of experience in implementing change at the highest levels of disability sectors, the business partners are able to provide the right information from the right provider to the right person at the right time.
“By combining forces with our specialist backgrounds, we knew we could support the sector to bring about positive change to support those living with disabilities faster,” Clark says. “From the outset, we’ve approached this business with a scaling up mentality – that’s why in the last 12 months, we’ve been able to grow our team from zero to 14 staff, and we’re about to double again.”
And it seems to be a recipe for success. In the past 12 months, Developing Australian Communities has attracted 1,300 providers and more than 13,000 visitors to expos held in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth.
“Now more than ever, it’s critical for people living with a disability to connect, and it’s critically important for them to have safe spaces to connect and get help from service providers, because NDIS is a fabulous scheme, but it’s still very complex and confusing for people to understand,” Clark explains.
Creating a safe space for people to ask questions and speak with experts, the startup leverages technology where it was quickly forced to adapt from in-person training sessions to virtual expos – and it’s continuing this hybrid version for greater exposure.
“We feel this solution is a perfect complement to the physical expos and is particularly beneficial to people living with a disability where it is more challenging for them to physically attend a venue,” Clark says. “Instead, they can attend from the comfort of their own home instantly.
“We’ll be able to expand our reach further into regional areas and support more people with disabilities.”
Not only does the hybrid version allow for greater access, but Developing Australian Communities can also collaborate with world-leading authoritative speakers anywhere on Earth.
“Ideas are so powerful. One idea can change your attitude, change your beliefs and even change your life.” – Mike Clark
As the startup is still young, navigating challenges can be difficult, however, it’s received invaluable support from Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) in Brisbane.
“Through being members of EO, we learned the vital scaling up principles that played a significant role in our fast growth,” the Co-Founder says.
For someone so passionate about the NDIS, it’s somewhat surprising Clark hasn’t always worked in the disability sector.
While the sector is relatively new for Clark, business is not. With almost two decades of event acumen, he has been able to draw upon lived experiences from his earlier career to help overcome any new hurdles.
“During my first year of business, we ran 174 events and generated more than A$10 million [US$7.2 million] in sales while creating one of Australia’s fastest-growing franchise businesses,” he recalls. “This gave me a taste of business and I’ve never turned back.
“When the financial crisis hit in 2009, basically we had to change our business model overnight. I expanded into a new market, completely leveraging all the lessons I’d learned previously and went on to build Europe’s largest LinkedIn training organisation where we trained large-scale organisations like Canon, Barclays and American Express.
“We ended up training more than 30,000 people and we secured an exclusive agreement with LinkedIn before my business was acquired.”
The agreement gave Clark the opportunity to move to Australia where he eventually met Night, who exposed him to the world of NDIS and the disability sector.
Having experienced such a prominent career, Clark believes success is about living life on his own terms with choices and meaningful projects to make a positive impact on others.
“Ideas are so powerful. One idea can change your attitude, change your beliefs and even change your life,” he says. “In a nutshell, it’s knowing what your ideal lifestyle is, owning it and then living it. Myself and my team wake up every day pumped to support NDIS, providers and participants to bring about much needed change to the sector.”
And it’s exactly what Developing Australian Communities is setting out to achieve.
Learn more about the vision and event of Developing Australian Communities here.