Meet Extraordinary Ventures Executive Director Lisa Kaylie
Every month, PORCH Chapel Hill-Carrboro volunteers gather at Extraordinary Ventures to drop off non-perishables, sort them, bag them, and load them for distribution. We rent the space monthly, and the location has been a game changer in terms of helping us consolidate our stock and formalize our operations; we’ve come a long way since the days of meeting in community members’ garages to perform these crucial tasks!
EV was founded by a group of families in Chapel Hill in 2007 with the goal of creating sustainable businesses operated by a neurodiverse workforce. EV is not a social program. Instead, it’s a company operating on a true business model to produce high-quality goods and services, from candle sales to dog walking.
In March, EV welcomed a new executive director in Lisa Kaylie. She has years of business experience, most recently specializing in online retail. A graduate of the UNC Kenan-Flagler School of Business, she also has nonprofit experience, serving on the boards of organizations like Kidzu Children’s Museum and the NC Therapeutic Riding Center. A mother to two sons, including one on the autism spectrum, she has been an active supportive of public schools. Last year, she was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools Board of Education.
We chatted with Lisa about EV’s future plans and its business partnership with PORCH.
Why are relationships like the one with PORCH beneficial for EV?
It’s huge because our purpose is to create meaningful job opportunities for people with developmental disabilities and autism. Anyone who uses our event space is helping us generate those job opportunities. We have a great clean-up crew, and they like to stay busy. Anytime PORCH is there, our guys have a couple of hours of clean up after PORCH, which is a good thing. It’s so much about building community. It’s local nonprofits supporting each other and working with each other. PORCH is investing some money … which is going back into another nonprofit. That money is being multiplied and doing more good. A lot of people are not aware that we have the event space. That’s a big thing for me is to raise awareness about our businesses. The more people who come in for the PORCH sorts, the more people who are aware of what we do and what our mission is.
We know all about your event space since we use it often! But describe it for people who aren’t familiar.
Extraordinary Ventures is a great place to host a variety of different events from trainings to fundraisers to personal gatherings like birthday parties and memorial services. It’s a big deal to have that space booked – it creates jobs. The Great Hall can have 200 people in it. We also have side rooms – a board room for 15-20 people, for example. You can bring in whatever catering you wish. It’s a great way to have a social impact with your spending. … We also use our event space to promote other inclusive businesses. We are now hosting two Inclusive Business Gift Markets a year featuring businesses with neurodiverse employees, and we plan to host other events to increase awareness. The Inclusive Gift Markets have been very successful. We are lucky to live in a community that is so supportive.
Tell us a bit more about Extraordinary Ventures’ business model.
Our mission to create job opportunities includes running six sustainable businesses. In addition to our event center, we have a laundry business (residential and commercial), a gifts business (candles and soaps), an office solutions business. We clean the Chapel Hill Transit buses, and we have EV Pets – a dog-walking business. These businesses have been chosen because they allow employees with a wide variety of skills to be successful in the workplace. We are especially interested in growing our event center and laundry businesses this summer. If anyone is tired of facing a giant pile of laundry at the end of the day, please give us a call. We will be happy to take that burden off your hands and put our employees to work.
Do you want to give a shout out to some of your favorite inclusive businesses?
Extraordinary Ventures will never be able to generate enough jobs on our own to close the disability employment gap. We want to be part of building an inclusive business coalition to promote other inclusive businesses in our area. At a time when local businesses are having trouble finding employees, we want to help educate them about this great untapped workforce that they may not be aware of.
The Purple Bowl and The Casual Pint are two local businesses that intentionally pursue inclusive employment. Other examples are businesses that are run by individuals with disabilities and their families – like Blawesome Flowers and Seawind Farm, a business that produces granola and other great products. We are very excited that B3 Coffee will be taking over the coffee space inside the Chapel Hill Public Library. That will provide great visibility to the entire community. We want to stress that the best way you can support these businesses is by purchasing their products and services.
Your 19-year-old son Simon is on the autism spectrum. How does that influence what you bring to this new role?
As a parent and an advocate, this mission is very personal to me. My son is approaching what is called “the cliff.” When he graduates from high school in June, he will no longer have access to many important services and supports he has received through our public schools. I know that employment will be the main way my son will interact with the community, and it is a key part of his well-being. Employment provides purpose, which is such an important part of the human experience. I feel extremely lucky to be part of an organization that is helping to give people purpose.
What are your plans for EV’s future?
We have so many plans! This summer, we will be working on rebranding some of our businesses and building new, easier to use websites for our customers. Another big project will be the renovation of our event space meeting rooms. And we want to be more active in the community – spreading the word about the disability employment gap and this great untapped resource of employees. We are thankful to PORCH for bringing people into our space and sharing our mission. We are thankful to be part of this great community.