Colleen Wunderlich: Director of the Forsythe Center for Employment & Entrepreneurship

My NativeAdVantage:

Bio:

My Name is Colleen Wunderlich. I have worked in the nonprofit, government, and private sectors, including at the Wilmer Eye Institute; the Chicago Lighthouse; the City of Chicago, Department of Children and Youth Services; and Freedom Scientific. Blind from birth, I am a strong braille reader and travel with my third guide dog. My interests are music of all types (especially country and classical music), cooking and baking, fashion, and spending time with friends and family.

What do I do best?

I think what I do well is pulling together a team to get things done and getting people to work together around a common goal. I feel my best when I am involving others and getting them all on the same page.

What makes me the best version of myself?

I am the best version of myself when I tap into my resourceful nature and tenacity. When I get to a wall, I figure out how I can get around it. I always try to focus on what I’m trying to do and figure out how I can do it.  I need to be nimble to do this well and need to admit when I’m wrong. It helps to take ego out of it sometimes.

What are my aspirations?

Personally, I’m always looking to grow. I’m always looking to improve myself, some aspect of me. Whether it’s living more in the present or being more mindful about how I spend my time. To me it’s important to continually remind myself about what really matters in life ---what’s worth doing.

The visually impaired entrepreneurs I work with inspire me every day.   They are so brave. Many have been told “no” over and over again. They have not been taken seriously by lenders because of their disability.  And yet they still find a way.  They may not have many options to fall back on as far as income compared to their sighted peers.  You can’t earn some extra cash as an Uber driver if you’re blind, for instance.   Yet they take a risk and start their own business.  I love how they are not willing to be told “no.”  It has changed my life to observe the “DO IT NOW” mentality of these people.

I wanted to do this New Venture Competition where not only is their blindness not a barrier, it’s a qualifier.

My Biggest Success?

My biggest success has been creating the life I wanted for myself. I am quite happy with where my life is now, both professionally and personally. I’ve overcome a lot of challenges to get to where I am now.    

Upon completion of my MBA from the University of Chicago, I took a sales management job in a small company. I knew it was going to give me the experience of three different jobs in a short amount of time in an industry where I had some contacts. I knew I could put my business degree to use in a big way there. I spent the better part of two years scared and uncomfortable because of the rigorous travel and job responsibilities of a sales territory with a lot of autonomy. It was painful, but I succeeded and I grew both personally and professionally.

My Most Challenging Moment?

I was at a real crossroads after getting my MBA. There were opportunities for my skills in the business world, yet I ultimately decided to apply my skills to the blindness field. I worried that it was a career limiting move, but was compelled by how I could use my knowledge to impact many lives in a profound manner. I ultimately chose a position with Freedom Scientific, selling computer software and hardware for those with visual impairment.

What drove my decision was a passion for technology and knowing that I would have a lot more responsibility in a relatively small company. It also helped that I was already a consumer of the products and could therefore add a tremendous amount of credibility to the sale.

I moved to Hadley after that position. So I have stayed in the business of serving those with visual impairment and know my work really matters to our clients. It truly has an impact in their lives.

My Motto?

I like the phrase “You earn your happiness.” To me that means that decisions and sacrifices I make have the reward of creating the kind of life I want for myself --- a happy life.

My Favorite People/Role Models?

I have never had a role model, but some people have inspired me. One of my favorite authors is Alison Armstrong of PAX Programs Incorporated. PAX works to create peace between the sexes through education on the predicament of gender; the interaction of masculinity and femininity; and the principles of partnership. I became interested in her work when I was employed with Freedom Scientific, because it was a predominantly male workforce. I was the only woman on the scales team, and I wanted to succeed in a male industry.

The other woman who influences my life is Dr. Patricia Allen, a Transactional Analyst who founded The Want Institute. Her work taught me how to negotiate with love; to ask for what I want; and to think and communicate directly and rationally. The words we use affect our mind set, health, relationships and financial situation. Since employing her tools, I enjoy watching the mind games and manipulations we all tend to use when trying to get our way, or making a decision. We do this when we don’t talk straight or think rationally even when we are dealing with ourselves alone.

Then of course there are my parents. My mother always gave me the tools, advice and resources to advocate for myself, solve my own problems, and change situations I did not like. I never feel stuck or like a victim, because she taught me not to let life push me around. My father taught me to never give up and let life get the best of me. He would always tell me that when I had something unpleasant to deal with, do it first thing in the morning, face the music and get it over with for the day. My parents are not quitters, they are worker and doers, and they make things happen.

My sister taught me all about fashion and fitting in into a sighted world when I was growing up. Even though she is younger than I, she would teach me what she knew about fashion, hair and makeup from her career as a child model.  

My Favorite Places/Destinations?

I like coastal cities and love the Mediterranean. I really love the food, the wine and friendliness of the people.

My Favorite Products/Objects?

I enjoy rich sensory experiences associated with things like wine, fragrances and chocolate.  I also feel grateful for my iPhone and Braille display. Together they give me so much access to the world. It has made my life so much easier as a blind person.

My Current Passions?

Cooking is a passion of mine. I like to see what I have a taste for and figure out how to make it.  I’m a power user of YouTube, searching for videos to help me create the dish I’m craving. I like to spend time with my family and close friends doing things in downtown Chicago. These include spending time on the Lakefront, enjoying Grant Park, the arts, movies, shopping and going to new restaurants. I am a deep thinker and conversationalist. I like to read, but I enjoy learning from the wisdom of people even more.

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Hadley to Award $30,000 to Blind Entrepreneurs

Whose Business Plans are Voted the Best

 

JANUARY 29, 2018—WINNETKA, IL—If you are an aspiring entrepreneur who also happens to be blind you may think that your obstacles are insurmountable.  But you are not alone in this effort. Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired has practical coursework to help you develop your business and also a chance to win some cash to bring your dream to life.

As the nation’s oldest and largest provider of learning programs that empower those with vision loss to thrive at home, at work, and in their communities, Hadley has announced its 3rd annual New Venture Competition, which will award upwards of $30,000 to deserving individuals to help bring the dream of owning their own business to life.

The competition is open to legally blind U.S. residents who successfully complete at least one course from Hadley’s Forsythe Center for Employment and Entrepreneurship, who will have a significant operational role, and a majority ownership in the new business.

“The purpose of the New Venture competition is to inspire our students to think more critically about their own business ideas and to practically apply the ideas learned in our courses to build a real business venture,” said Colleen Wunderlich, Director of the Forsythe Center for Employment & Entrepreneurship.  

An MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, Ms. Wunderlich is herself blind and has served in her current position at Hadley since 2013. 

The New Venture competition is intended for new ventures in the start-up, or early growth stages of business development and which must reside within the United States.

Applicants will be required to submit a business plan no larger than 10-pages and which includes a one-page executive summary. Plans will be judged on a number of criteria, including the likelihood of achieving a viable new venture.

Entries must be submitted in either Microsoft Excel or Word formats by Thursday, March 15. Interested applicants can email FCE@hadley.edu for more information or questions. Additional information including entry forms and how submitted plans will be judged are available by visiting www.hadley.edu/FCE.

About The Forsythe Center for Employment & Entrepreneurship (FCE)

FCE offers tuition-free courses and one-lesson, online modules to help prepare visually impaired individuals for employment and entrepreneurship. Whether looking for a job, wanting a better job or interested in being your own boss, Hadley helps individuals develop the business skills needed to be successful.

Learning focuses on business-related topics, technology, self-employment, and entrepreneurship and is offered through its Adult Continuing Education Program.

Courses and modules are practical, relevant and interactive. They are designed to provide requisite computer training; relevant Social Security, tax, accounting, legal, marketing, management and communications information; and content specific to the needs and concerns of individuals who are visually impaired.

About Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired

The mission of Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired is to create personalized learning opportunities that empower people to thrive --- at home, at work and in their communities. Hadley is the largest provider of distance education for people who are blind or visually impaired worldwide, serving more nearly 10,000 students annually in all 50 states and 100 countries. A 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, we rely on contributions from individuals, foundations and corporations to fund its programs. Watch our videos to learn more about our students, programs and donors. www.hadley.edu