Mother’s Wish Spurs Childhood Friends to Pioneer Autism Talent Startup
The power of neurodiversity is super-personal to the co-founders of Daivergent Inc., a cloud-based startup that connects people on the autism spectrum with employers that need their unique skills in a data-driven world.
“The autism talent pool is the future of work,” said Byran Dai, co-founder and CEO of Daivergent. “A self-driving car company needs someone to label and define hundreds of thousands of images and text that teach AI-powered algorithms. These intensively focused, complex, repetitive processes are behind the next generation of digital business, and some people on the autism spectrum have a unique aptitude for this kind of work.”
And yet, unemployment rates of adults with autism hover around 90 percent. Dai has first-hand experience with the challenge; his 19-year old brother has autism.
“I’ve seen the daily challenges my brother has faced looking for vocational support,” said Dai. “He’s lucky to attend an alternative education program. But when he turns 21, he’s going to lose all those state services. As an adult, he won’t get work, school or benefit subsidies. It’s known as the services cliff, and he could fall right off it.”
Daivergent co-founder and CTO, Rahul Mahida, has a younger cousin with autism who has motivated him in the same way.
“Education is improving, and my cousin can finish high school and take college courses, but it’s only a matter of time before he’s an adult,” said Mahida. “We want to be pioneers, helping people with autism get jobs in the fields they’ve studied for and are interested in when they become adults.”
Valuable partnership with SAP
Daivergent is one of eight startups participating in the SAP.iO Foundry New York, an accelerator for early-stage enterprise tech companies building solutions that incorporate business beyond bias or drive sustainability.
“Many companies talk about workforce neurodiversity, but SAP’s Autism at Work program is actually delivering on it, recognizing the power of people on the spectrum,” said Dai.
Mahida said that partnering with SAP.iO Foundry has helped them better understand enterprise priorities and decision-making to support go to market strategies. “Learning how SAP sells an integrated suite of software has been invaluable because it’s something we’re striving for as well. We’ve discovered how to position our platform for company-wide benefits.”
21st century career skills
Collaborating with community and government agencies, and educational partners, Daivergent provides hiring managers with contract labor and full-time employee recruitment services. Its proprietary matching algorithm assesses candidate strengths to identify the work they’re best suited for, matching them with job and learning opportunities. These include training modules to gain technology skills and certifications. Curriculums align with market demand in high-growth areas like data analysis, web research and business intelligence. Candidates can also connect with other people in shared interest groups such as video games and anime.
Shared passion for data and doing good
Data has loomed large in the careers of both co-founders, along with a shared passion to positively impact the world. They also happen to be childhood best friends who grew up together in a suburb north of New York City.
Mahida began assembling computers with his microbiologist dad when he was learning to read. Initially destined to follow the family career path into medicine, he left his biomedical engineering studies to become a self-taught developer. Dai originally studied political science. He became a data scientist after realizing that data underpinned every field. Fast forward to a couple of years ago, Mahida was lead engineer at a cancer analytics startup, while Dai managed a team at a healthcare startup building predictive algorithms. Dissatisfied in their respective roles, they launched Daivergent to eliminate the layers between the technology, company processes and end-users.
“The most satisfying part of our work is seeing the direct impact on people’s lives,” said Mahida. “One person became a clerk at a mental health facility. Another is a proposal coordinator at a payroll processor. Recently someone joined a quality assurance software company that only hires people with autism for some roles. Additionally, people use Daivergent as a stepping stone to pursue their career passions, even in other places such as game design.”
It comes down to family
As Daivergent has expanded with employers and job candidates, the co-founder’s strongest motivation remains grounded in family.
“My mother passed away four years ago, and she always said I’d be responsible for helping my brother when she wasn’t there,” said Dai. “By the time my brother and Rahul’s cousin are of working age, we want companies to see that people on the autism spectrum have incredible advantages for a digitalized world.”
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