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Inclusivity in entrepreneurship: Vancouver kombucha business owners balance strengths and support

To these entrepreneurs, creating means a “fun day in the office.”
India Begbie Ford and Shasta Young launched Clarity Kombucha in 2017 in Cumberland, B.C., before moving the business to East Vancouver in 2019. The women entrepreneurs talk about what it's like to run a small business amidst the challenges of being neurodivergent.

A central message the co-owners of an East Vancouver kombucha company have for other neurodivergent entrepreneurs is to “reach out” and ask for help.

Clarity Kombucha’s Shasta Young, 32, says she wouldn’t have been able to do it without help from specific individuals within her community.

“We’ve been really lucky with getting help from the community since day one,” said Young.

For example, someone showed Young and her business partner India Begbie Ford how to use the CO2 machine to carbonate their drinks.

And one of Young’s friends, a graphic designer, helped with the bottle designs.

The business owners say they've leaned on people as far away as Cumberland on Vancouver Island, other small business owners in Vancouver, and their friends and families.

How the business owners divide tasks

"Our neurodivergence was definitely a barrier that took us a bit to overcome," explains Ford.

Ford, 35, also cites making it through the usual barriers for small businesses in Vancouver,  such as the high cost of a business licence and supply delays during the early pandemic days.

Because each business partner has her own struggles, "we are lenient with each other," continues Ford. “We can recognize and celebrate each other’s differences.”

Ford says the two being open and communicating what’s going on in their lives is one of the biggest strengths of their partnership.

“We don’t really do 50/50. Sometimes, I’m struggling and Shasta will pick up the slack and vice versa," describes Ford.

When they fight or disagree on something, they talk it out and don’t let anything fester.

Mindful of each other’s strengths, the two best friends do their best to accommodate each other.

For example, Young is not good with computers and prefers to be in the kitchen.

To help with the “million to-dos” a business has, Ford uses software that integrates and ranks tasks by a hierarchy of urgency and attests it helps her portion out her mental energy appropriately.

One “simple” thing that has helped Ford and Young are big whiteboards in their kitchen: one for their orders and another for tasks to complete.

Creating new kombucha flavours a 'fun day in the office'

With two large “in your face” visual aids, they can focus more on experimenting and creating new flavours in the space they love.

To these entrepreneurs, creating means a “fun day in the office.”

Some of the flavours in the Clarity Kombucha line include Ginger Lemon Jalapeño, Apricot Sage, and Flower Power, which is made with lavender, rose, and organic jasmine green tea.

Young and Ford are passionate about kombucha, which they discovered in 2017 during a trip to California together.

Kombucha is fermented sweetened tea with a tiny bit of fizziness. The beverage has been around for a long time.

Its exact origins aren’t known, but it’s thought to have originated from China and dispersed along the Silk Road, a network of trade routes used for more than 1,500 years from 130 B.C.E. to 1453 C.E. Kombucha spread across Asia and eventually, via Russia, to Europe.

Young and Ford brought it from California to Cumberland on Vancouver Island where they brewed it at home for themselves.

They eventually had extra to share with friends and neighbours and traded their kombucha within the artisan community.

Soon, they scaled up production and supplied bottled kombucha for many businesses in the Comox Valley.

In 2019, the best friends expanded the business by moving to Vancouver. In turn, they expanded their personal "help" networks. 

Small business owners in B.C. can access grants

About 15 percent of the global population identifies as neurodivergent. That’s more than a billion people worldwide.

Out of that population, 86 percent are often either unemployed or underemployed. Understandably, when faced with barriers, some people will go into business themselves.

Small Business BC, an independent nonprofit that receives funding from the provincial and federal government, said there’s a strong interest from employers about accessibility and accommodations for those who are neurodivergent and/or disabled.

The organization is currently in the research phase for a report on this topic.

What it currently offers and invites small business owners to apply for is a “workplace accessibility grant.”

Small business owners in British Columbia can be reimbursed up to $5,000 on an accessibility project. The definition of such a project ranges from a physical ramp in a well-lit hall to website changes for those with low vision or who use screen readers.