Startups

Here’s how Enabled Intelligence plans to build an accessible workplace for neurodivergent technologists

The data labeling company plans to add 117 new jobs thanks to a $1.4 million investment. Its CEO explains how it plans to make this processes work for the neurodiverse workers he wants to hire.

Members of the Enabled Intelligence team.

(Courtesy photo)

This fall, data startup Enabled Intelligence is gearing up for many new additions to its NoVa office.

Started in 2020, Enabled Intelligence provides data labeling for artificial intelligence applications used by the federal government. Data labeling is the process of humans, well, labeling data so algorithms can be trained, as well as know what to look for and learn. For most companies, this work can be pretty easily outsourced to foreign countries. But for sensitive and complicated government information, it needs to be completed a little closer to home.

Peter Kant, the company’s founder and CEO, who previously held roles with the Clinton administration, OSI Systems and SRI International, noted that data labeling is much more complicated for a government entity.  

“You can’t take US government data and ship it overseas, that wouldn’t be good as a policy or politics and then turns out not to be good for actual quality…and then, of course, classified or sensitive information certainly can’t go overseas,” Kant told Technical.ly.

The 25-person company, which is located in Falls Church, Virginia, just announced that it would be investing $1.4 million to expand its headquarters. Along with the 10,000 square feet it’s adding, the company will be hiring for 117 new roles. The company has been bootstrapped since it began, save for a 10% investment from the Disability Opportunity Fund.

As of right now, Kant said just over half of Enabled Intelligence’s staff identify as someone with a disability, including technologists who are visually or hearing impaired. Largely, though, this group consists of neurodiverse staffers (the company also has a large number of military veterans).

When creating the company, Kant said he decided to target neurodiverse technologists for hiring and creating a safe workplace after learning that many neurodiverse individuals in the Israeli army are assigned to tech and cyber positions. To that end, he wanted to create an inclusive work environment, removing any educational requirements and replacing a traditional first interview with an accessible assessment.

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“What drove this was really seeing that: here’s an under-employed and fairly available population with a real need and a government [with] real need that could be served, and we can build a business around that,” Kant said.

The assessment, Kant explained, is a test that employees can do on their own time with an option for a written, verbal, video or audio version. Following that, the company does conduct a face-to-face interview, but questions are sent ahead of time and include asking employees how they work best or if they need any accommodations.

In the office (employees are required to be in-person given the security and sensitivity of the work), employees can have whatever accommodations they need. That can mean anything from larger screens, designated quiet or darker spaces, exercise balls to sit on or taking extra breaks to, on the flip side, setting hours so they don’t overwork themselves. Enabled Intelligence also works with many community groups and has even hosted an employee date night.

When he started the company, Kant said he was concerned about the high turnover in the industry, so he hoped that creating an environment such as this would encourage employees to stay. So far, he said the company either didn’t need to worry so much or the method worked — according to him, Enabled hasn’t lost any employees.

“High turnover would be very costly because there’s a lot of training that goes into teaching someone how to recognize this stuff,” Kant said. “So, we wanted to build a really welcoming and supportive environment that could hold on to employees and where they felt they could be successful.”

With the new employee investment, Enabled worked with the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. The jobs will be filled in part with the assistance of the Virginia Jobs Investment Program.

Additionally, Kant said that the company is working on a few pilot projects with the government and will take on some government contracts going forward.

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