STARTING UP WITH NO LIMITS: ENTREPRENEURS WITH DISABILITIES
ADDVOCACY LIFE SKILLS AND COACHING
A career that started in skilled trades quickly changed when the British Columbia-based company that Keith Gelhorn was working for cut its staff from 77 to four in six months. To make matters more complicated, he was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) shortly after.
“I had a lot of problems with organization, getting orders right, and following things in a linear path,” says Keith, explaining the symptoms he had before he was diagnosed. “I was good at little pockets of things but couldn’t link everything together,” adding that easy tasks sometimes took him twice as long to complete.
Unsure where his career was going to take him next, Keith decided he’d pursue his first passion in social work—a path he was told not to take years before. “I wanted to get into social work when I was coming out of high school and going into university but it took me about four years to do two years worth of school,” he explains. “When I came out of two years of college, I tried getting into the University of Victoria but I only had about a 70 per cent average and they wouldn’t let me in.” This led Keith to a ten-year career in skilled trades as a plumber before he started his own business ADDvocacy ADHD & Life Skills Coaching, a service designed to offer support and guidance to people diagnosed with ADHD.
But prior to his entrepreneurial debut, Keith knew he had to do his research. Seeing the thousands of ADHD coaches south of the border, he noticed Canada was lacking in the field. “I thought this would be a good opportunity to go back to school, so the school that I went to is called the ADD Coach Academy in New York,” he says. “The timing wouldn’t work out for it if I stayed in BC, so I relocated [to Nova Scotia] and went to school for disability supports and services, and then did coaching school at night.” Soon after, he started ADDvocacy ADHD & Life Skills Coaching.
Focusing on lessons in organization, time management, relationship building, and educating in ADHD, Keith now coaches 30 students from the Nova Scotia Community College in Eastern Canada, in addition to a contract with non-profit groups throughout the province. And his experience running a business with ADHD himself has been life changing. “I’m always cooking up new ideas and I’m finding it really helpful in terms of being creative,” he says. “A lot of things come to me quickly so the amount that I’ve been able to accomplish in two and a half years of doing this is pretty phenomenal.”
In 2013, Keith took his accomplishments further after he received the 2013 Entrepreneur of the Year Award from the Nova Scotia-based Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Network (EDN). “That was pretty significant given the fact that I had all these challenges,” he says. “I had such a rocky career over the years so winning that was pretty substantial. The spinoffs from it have been huge.” Now with a seat on the EDN board of directors, Keith was able to land additional contracts, further helping the growth of his two-year-old company.
“It’s just funny that you can take something that was a disability and turn it into a major positive,” he says. “This year, I just got back from a high school tour with a business coordinator from EDN. We talked to high school kids about entrepreneurship and just different alternatives.”
In addition to his full-time coaching career for people with ADHD, Keith continues to encourage entrepreneurship for young people despite their disabilities. “Find out as much as you can about the disability and reach out for mentors and the resources around you. Working for yourself could be extremely rewarding.”
Looking ahead, Keith hopes to fill the support needs for ADHD sufferers throughout Nova Scotia, help other entrepreneurs kick-start their businesses, while also collaborating with other ADHD experts to write a book.