Dia Bondi 00:19
Hi everyone, this is Lead With Who You Are. I'm Dia Bondi, and on this show we explore and discover together what it really means to lead with who you are. And we're doing it with fantastic people like our guest today. In this episode, we're talking with Kelly Twichel, inventor, and founder of Access Trax. In this conversation, Kelly shares her personal story that is the driver for all of her impact, and the instigating challenge that led to her invention that is now used across geographies to help people with disabilities live with more freedom, you can hear the pride in her voice as she continuously taps the inspiration her clients and customers give her by sharing their experience of her product. If you're someone doing really hard things, this conversation will help you reconnect with the dream, and the promise on the other end of the hard work you're doing today. But before we get into today's show, I want to just mention something really cool and important that happened this morning. So in 2019, many of you may or may not know I launched Project ask like an auctioneer to help a million women ask for more and get it using everything I learned from a funny impact hobby I picked up in my 40s of fundraising auctioneering for women led nonprofits and nonprofits that benefit women and girls. And a couple of years into delivering the keynote and workshop for this project. I am now writing the book. And today I heard back from my editor, it was her first look at the complete manuscript. It's so perfect, because actually, I delivered my manuscript five weeks ahead of my actual deadline, which is today and today's the day she got back to me with her feedback. And this is sort of like the top line edit, it's not a line by line edit. It's like is the structure right? Does this make sense, etc. She returned her notes to me today, and I was, uh, my heart nearly exploded in the best possible way. So the big deal is that she didn't blow up the book, I didn't get a oh, we gotta go back to start over, you know, this part needs to be removed, we have to move rearrange things, this doesn't make sense. But instead, her notes were actually quite minimal and tactical. And the thing that I'm going for in the book, the feeling, the sense of it, the ideas inside of it, how actionable they are, is exactly how she experienced the manuscript. And I am absolutely so proud and thrilled, this is really major and a major shout out, not just to the work I've done. In fact, that's even the smaller part, it's a big shout out to you, everyone who worked with me on developing those ideas. Because I did not do this in a vacuum, I didn't develop the ideas in the book in a vacuum. Instead, I develop them with you, my listeners, people in the workshop, peers in my network, who brought the ideas of aspect and auctioneer, the workshop or the keynote into their organizations and associations. And I just want to say a big, huge thank you to those of you who have supported all of the development of these ideas, even if it was just texting back and forth with me or doing a walk and talk on the phone or jumping on a call to help me work through an idea or taking a look at some copy. Or inviting me into your organization's to teach the women that you have an opportunity to elevate and accelerate the ideas of as like an auctioneer, I have massive, massive gratitude for you. So that's number one. Look, listen to this. I'm just gushing and the book is out yet. Number two, the book is coming out in 2023. And right now the website for the book is live. And there's an opportunity for you to go check out what it's all about. And also add your name to the list. So you know exactly when the book goes on sale for pre order, which is going to be actually sooner than later the book comes out in 2023. But it may actually be up for pre order sooner than that. So my invitation to you is to go to aspect and auctioneer.com check out what's going on with the book and what it's all about the sizzle reels on there which will give you a nice, a nice shot of optimism around what kind of impact this project can have. And get on that list so that you can be on this journey with me to empower the asks of people who are using asking as a success strategy and moving toward their goals with confidence and courage. Now on to Kelly Twichel, who is and on tripper door and a woman who I would guess, has been doing a little bit of asking of her own to help her reach her goals of building a business that has an incredible impact on people's lives and how they live it. Hey, just a quick reminder, you can subscribe to this show on your podcast platform of choice. We're live nearly everywhere and you can always listen to the email@example.com if there's a leader or innovator in your life, who is it their shiniest when they lead with who they truly are, Please share the show with them. And rate subscribe, and leave us a review makes a huge difference in the reach that the show has when you let everyone else know what you love about the show. Thanks so much. Kelly Twitchell is an occupational therapist and CEO of the award-winning accessibility startup access tracks. As an OT student in occupational therapy student in 2016. Kelly was inspired by adaptive surfers to co invent a portable pathway that empowers people of all physical abilities to easily access the outdoors. One of my favorite places in 2018, Kelly launched access tracks, which has since served families, nonprofits and government across 15 countries, access tracks, won the 2020 FedEx small business grant Grand Prize and in 2021, the assistive tech product was granted a patent go Kelly. Kelly's graduated from a number of business accelerators, and is currently a coreless. Formerly she EEO venture, which is awesome because I've been an activator in the CEO now, Corliss community. And she's also a Tory Burch fellow. She enjoys volunteering at adaptive sports events and encouraging the next generation of problem solvers. So Kelly, I am having you on our show lead with who you are, because you're doing something fantastic. And I've been watching you from afar for a handful of years now. And I'm always really curious how women entrepreneurs, people like you do what you do in a way that seems so aligned to who you actually are. That's sort of the the idea of the whole show here is that we are at our most powerful when we speak from and lead with who we actually are, you're forging forward with something that matters and seems like it matters to you in a way that is aligned to who you are. So I'm so happy to have you on the show.
Kelly Twichel 07:38
Thank you so much for having me.
Dia Bondi 07:39
And we're gonna start always with the question that we we love to ask, which is fewer, say and a few sentences. who you are. How would you answer that question? Who are you, Kelly?
Kelly Twichel 07:51
I love that question. Because I feel like it's always evolving, right? The answer is never the same. So today, who I am, is I am a passionate individual who happens to live in San Diego. I am the daughter of a woman with a disability. I am an Occupational Therapist, and I'm an advocate for disability rights. Also, I am an entrepreneur, and an animal lover. So that's who I am today.
Dia Bondi 08:19
Great. And all it seems like all those things are showing up in the work that you're doing now. And they're not. Yeah, absolutely. So tell help us understand what is access tracks, you know, in your bio, I mentioned what it is, and sort of what it does when we talk about pathways. Like what are we really talking about? So give us a sense of what Access Trax really is.
Kelly Twichel 08:40
Yeah. So Access Trax is a lightweight modular portable access mat. It is an mat that provides a Furman stable surface or an access route, if you if you will, that helps people who maybe have a mobility impairment or really anybody wheeling over outdoor terrain, because typically outdoor terrain like sand, grass, gravel, and snow is such a barrier to somebody who is trying to try to traverse that, specifically if they are using a wheelchair or mobility device or just you know, a little bit unsteady on their feet. So that's that's what the product is. That's what it does. And yeah, that's, that's a quick summary.
Dia Bondi 09:25
And so where are the places and when you say they're modular, modular, I know that they click together. I remember when I first reached out to you about coming on the show you were like I'm really slammed right now. It's summertime and I'm, I'm in the garage clicking together mats. So help people understand they're like a mat that clicks together, which you can make into large pads or long pathways or in any sort of shape you want. Right,
Kelly Twichel 09:46
exactly. So the mats each square is three feet by three feet. They're an eighth of an inch thick. They have hinge slits on all four sides of these mats, and it allows the connectivity on all four sides, so that you can create that any configuration. And when I'm talking about, you know, assembling the mats connecting these mats together, we use industrial grade Velcro. So it's, it's simple, yet extremely effective. So when you think about Velcro there, it's inexpensive, it's extremely durable. It's lightweight, it's flexible. So when these mats are connected, you can actually accordion fold them, because of the Velcro the way that they're connected. So, so yeah, that's that's kind of how that works.
Dia Bondi 10:33
And so these places, the places where they might show up where someone listening might run across an access practice, like in a beach access zone, or in a, you know, I don't know, in a state park, where you might be hosting a wedding or in like, any context where improved accessibility matters.
Kelly Twichel 10:52
Yes. So we work with government agencies for ADA compliance. Same thing with, you know, the private sector, you got a business, maybe it's an outdoor restaurant, you know, during COVID, there were so many restaurants that had to only operate outdoors, and they had to create, you know, accessible space for their patrons. So we've had restaurants purchase from us and install that in their gravel courtyard area. So it's such a wide variety of who we can serve, and it makes it really fun. Because I never know what the next customer email is going to be.
Dia Bondi 11:28
Yeah, right, the next situation that it's going to be able to solve a problem, right? I'm sure there have been some surprising contexts. So I mean, when when you answer the question, Who are you around being a daughter of a of a mom with a disability and you know, the space that you are an outdoor enthusiast, I understand your life being one of an outdoor enthusiasm, it makes sense that this is something you've created in the world. But can you tell us a little bit about how you actually birthed the idea?
Kelly Twichel 11:56
Yes. I love this story, I think, yes. So back in 2016, I was in school for occupational therapy. So I was in grad school, where I was going to get my master's, and be a clinician, right, working in the hospitals or wherever. Well, in school, during our second year, we had a class called assistive technologies. And in that class, assistive tech, it's such an amazing concept, right? Because anything can be assistive tech could be something purchased off the shelf, a software that you download, it could be anything from a wheelchair to your hearing aids to a screen reader to make the print larger. So it just helps a person be more independent and successful in completing a task really, at the end of the day. So in this class, we were challenged by our professor to create something to help people with disabilities, period. That's it, um, there wasn't, you know, specific requirements. However, she did ask if one of the student groups wouldn't mind taking on the idea of how can we help adaptive surfers, surfers who just happen to use a wheelchair for mobility? How can we help them cross the sand at the beach more independently, because the other solutions that are out there that we found, it's like a big beach wheelchair where the person in the beach wheelchair, they cannot independently propel themselves somebody, usually to people because it's a big bulky chair has to push that person. So we wanted something with more dignity or independence where the individual could be in the comfort of their own custom mobility device, right to cross the same. So my classmate and I said, hey, we'll try to tackle this. And we ended up trying to create a portable mat, as opposed to a wheelchair modification. And the reason was, is that if you modify a wheelchair or any mobility device, it only helps that one person at a time, right? But if you create a portable pathway, then you can use the concept of universal design and you can create something that benefits everybody regardless of disability. So that's what we did. We started as a school project, my classmate and I said, hey, we'll try to help adaptive surfers. And at that point, we still had no idea this was going to become a business, right? It was a school project. And this was in 2016. It was October 1 2016. In Ocean Beach, California. We had our handmade prototype, which was made out of materials from a hardware store like Home Depot,
as you do as you do. Yeah. And we
Kelly Twichel 14:41
had actually zip tied aluminum rain gutter covers to a roll of plastic chicken wire so that it created sort of track you know traction to prevent the tires from sinking into the sand. That's all we needed is to prove can we create traction And, and there were five adaptive surfers there that day surfing out that competition in their heat. And we got all of them to try it out. And we had only 210 foot sections of mat. So we had to go over 100 feet 150 feet to get to the competition zone. So we were sweating by the end of, you know, moving these man have
Dia Bondi 15:20
to like pick one mat and put it in front of the other one and then get on it in the right way. And so unlike a leapfrog setup, exactly.
Kelly Twichel 15:26
And that's what I tell people even now, it's like a LeapFrog. And you don't need a mile long pathway, right? You just need a couple pieces. And we had these people try it. And it wasn't about what the product looks like because it was, you know, handmade chicken wire. Yeah. It wasn't about what it looked like. It wasn't about what it was called. It wasn't about us, it was about the way that the mats made them feel. It was about that independence, an opportunity to say, I can do this, I can cross the sand. And most of them hadn't done it before in their own personal wheelchair. So that was really big. And that moved me to hear also the story of one of the surfers who he had coincidentally broken his back while surfing years ago in Mexico. And he's still a surfer. I mean, that's part of his identity. That's his passion. And so he sustained a spinal cord injury, lower level, meaning that he had pretty good core strength, like his app strength. And he said, Yeah, this was the first time in 10 years that I've been, you know, on the sand in my wheelchair. And, you know, go well, how do you normally cross the sand? You know, surfing, because we know he does it all the time? Oh, yeah. I just dragged my body across the sand with my board next to me. That's intense, right? You you take a grown individual who says nope, I don't want somebody to carry me like a child across the stand, I'm going to do this myself. Somebody who values their independence. And still, of course, wants to do what they want to do, right? And he's going to drag his body across the sand to go do what he loves. So just getting goosebumps thinking about like, how can I make somebody's life and somebody's Pursuit of Happiness easier? How can I break down those barriers,
Dia Bondi 17:18
the word that comes up for me, and I don't know if this is overreaching, but like in hearing that story is like dignity.
Kelly Twichel 17:24
So we wanted to create something that empowered people to have better dignity, to have better freedom to have equity to have access, inclusion, you know, all of these things. And so that that's the day that when we tested that firsthand, we prototype, that's when we knew that this is no longer just a school project, this can't go sit in a closet for 20 years and say, Wow, remember when No, like we needed to be able to make this into an actual manufactured product, right, so that we could scale this and help millions of people around the world have better access to the outdoors.
Dia Bondi 18:04
So in your story, I hear you saying I had a plan for myself to be a clinician, and and I built this thing and saw something that compelled me to go to in a different direction. Yes. So what was that transition like for you? And and I guess the question is like, Was it hard to switch dreams? Or was it easy?
Kelly Twichel 18:27
Yeah, that is that is a really great question. So when, when that school project ended, and of course, the dream had just begun of how could we make something big out of this to help people? It was like, go time instantly. It was there was no question for me. It's like the ball started rolling. And it was downhill and there was no stopping it. Right?
Dia Bondi 18:56
And who was who was causing that momentum? Like, where did that momentum come from? external internal witnessing what was happening?
Kelly Twichel 19:05
Yeah, so much of it, I do believe is internal, because I have always had this really big drive to push myself to seeing things around me that need somebody to do some, you know, intervening, whether it be you know, helping others or just making an impact. And when I was, this kind of comes from when I was 12 years old. My mom had a massive stroke. It was two weeks before I started high school. And I had a couple friends over for a sleepover
Dia Bondi 19:42
and I have a 12 year old I know exactly what that time of life is keep going.
Kelly Twichel 19:46
Yeah, right so you're I mean, you're really just starting to understand yourself as a human right. And and then all of a sudden your world is just turned upside down. So yeah, my mom was in the hospital for very longtime recovering.
Dia Bondi 20:01
Let me go back just for a second, I interrupted you. And you said, I was having friends for a sleepover. Yeah. And then I jumped in what was that
Kelly Twichel 20:08
I woke up at six in the morning, which is not a time you want to wake up at that age to my dad knocking on my door. And it was like, He was distraught. I had never seen him look like that before. And he said, Your mom is she has fallen in the bathroom, and she can't get up and she can't talk. And I obviously instantly knew something was wrong. I, you know, throw open my covers, and I just like, didn't even acknowledge my friends who were like, what still waking up and just run down the hallway to my parents room. And I just remember going to my mom on the bathroom floor, and I just like, cradled her head in my lap, and I was stroking her hair, and I said, it's gonna be okay. And that moment, I just felt this sense of responsibility kick in. I'm 12 years old, right? Like, I just started doing my own laundry. You know, I, I just ever since then, I've felt this intense sense of responsibility, like, Okay, so there's so many things in the world that nobody wants to do. Right? Oh, oh, that's too niche. Oh, that's too much work. Oh, that's too much to figure out. Oh, not my problem, right. And, for me, I've always felt like the one of well, nobody else was going to do it. So I'm going to do
Dia Bondi 21:29
it. So when you saw the impact that the chicken wire, and, you know, zip tie version of what is now a patented product called Access tracks. Sounds to me like you were so compelled. Maybe it wasn't even switching, changing your dream, but just changing the form that it has. Yes.
Kelly Twichel 21:52
And I agree with that. Because I, you know, I found occupational therapy, because it allowed me to work with people, and help them become more independent, you know, be able to do what they want and need to do in their life, just like those who helped my mom after her stroke. And my version of what I'm doing now, is occupational therapy in just a different form.
Dia Bondi 22:21
Exactly. That's beautiful. So, okay, so, so many I work with a lot of entrepreneurs, who are doing really hard things. And, you know, it's, it's always, everybody's telling you how you're supposed to do it, or whether something is a good idea to go this way or that way. You know, I'm really curious, you know, the story is inspiring, the product works. And it is inspirational, aspirational, and, and has a big impact. But along the path, I can't imagine that there wasn't a poll to don't do it that way that'll never make money or like, how what, what were the sort of key themes in the doubt the doubters, you maybe ran across? And how did you deal with that? Or how have you dealt with that? Or do you still deal with it?
Kelly Twichel 23:14
Sure. I think very, very early on when it was so close to just still being a school project. And I still had to finish school, right? I mean, I wasn't that wasn't after school that was in, in class, I still had to go out on field work to get my get my degree and certification, and then practice occupational therapy clinically for a while. But I, you know, at first, it was some of my family saying, Oh, you need to be careful, because you have a lot of student loans to pay back. And if you don't, you know, graduate if you don't, I mean, I never was going to not graduate, right? That was always in the plan. But it was okay, I've graduated, I'm practicing clinically, but I'm basically working the equivalent of two full time jobs because I'm working my day job to pay back those loans and get experience. But I'm also every single night, trying to work on starting this business. And so obviously, that can be very overwhelming and daunting. So family was telling me Are you sure? Like is this gonna work out? You know, a lot of businesses fail. This is a lot of it. And I'm not talking about I'm just starting up another candy shop, right? Like this is a brand new invention. I have to go through a lot of processes and hoops that other business owners might not have to have gone through to get their business going. So yeah, that very early on. Some of my family was just nervous for me. They didn't want to see me not be able to pay rent, and that kind of stuff. Were you nervous? Yeah. Oh, yeah. You know, I was but there was also this overwhelming and I don't even know what to call it like that this is gonna work. Yeah,
Dia Bondi 25:02
it's so like you had big reasons to believe I, you know, I hear it like that and it sounds it's really interesting dancing with this boundary of recognizing our own fears and nerves and taking on fears that aren't ours.
Kelly Twichel 25:20
Yeah, yeah. I mean, when you talk about that of like not taking on the fear that wasn't mine, I knew I was never going to be living on the streets, right? And I'm like, Okay, so that's not really the worst case scenario here. So I was really good about staying focused on what do I have in my control? And the way that I did this? Yes, I used caution. I didn't just, you know, quit my full time day job instantly. I did it over the years. So I worked full time clinically for a couple of years, then I just kind of started to slowly, you know, go, okay, 30 hours a week, okay, 18 hours a week, okay, 10 hours a week. So I did it step wise. And so that was very strategic on my part, I was always very analytical at calculating what is the exact dollar amount that I need to make each month to cover my expenses. And, you know, be able to keep moving forward with this business, and allowing myself the amount of time that I realistically needed to be able to do that. So, yeah, I just did it over a few years time, and it was the end of 2021, I really officially went full time with access tracks. And I had graduated from grad school in the end of 2017.
Dia Bondi 26:41
So how long this path knowing that you may have had path, no pun intended, along this path, you know, knowing that you had folks who were nervous, nervous for you, maybe some doubters who were careful now, you know, where what did you go to? And what did you rely on, to stay connected to the dream newer building?
Kelly Twichel 27:06
Well, I think for me, being in the social impact space, it's so easy to just say, Well, I have to do this because of the impact that I can make on people's lives, right. And it wasn't just a wish of, I hope I can make an impact I was seeing in real time. That is very powerful. When you are able to actually face to face even get to see the way you're able to make people feel just based on your product or services. It keeps you going through whatever you're going to have to go through. And for me, I quite frequently go to the story of this family that I worked with, within I think a year or so of launching my company and I had done a rental where I drove to the beach and set up the pathway for a gentleman who was a teacher just happened to use a manual wheelchair. And he had some students that were going to come down on the beach. So he wanted to be able to show the students the beach and do it in a beautiful place. At one point, a couple a man and a woman were approaching the the pathway, the access tracks from the beach boardwalk. And I saw that the man who was using a power wheelchair, go right up to the mats and stop. And he was really looking at them like what is this? I kind of approached them said yeah, you know, you can go out on the mats, no problem. And he was very hesitant on you sure, this is a really heavy chair. And you know, power chairs could be up to 500 pounds right there. It can be very heavy. And he says, Are you sure? And I said absolutely. So finally he kind of slowly goes on to the first mat. And he and his face kind of lit up and he just starts flying down that pathway towards the water within his chair. And you could just tell that it was that sense of freedom of like, Oh, I haven't been on sand in a while right? And I can get closer to the waves, I can get closer to everybody. And then I later found out talking to his wife that he had been diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease. He didn't know how much time he had left here with us. So he and his wife were very active individuals, they loved camping, they love the beach. They lived, you know, by the beach, and his wife came up to me later that day, and she goes how much for all of these mats. And they ended up buying the equivalent of that kind of beach setup that we had. And I just remember her being so excited about the possibilities of having that access with her husband, for them to continue to do their adventures together. So that day, you know, I ended up having a very real connection with some customers that I got to see face to face, all of the moments, right, the moment of apprehension, a moment of excitement, the moment of freedom, the moment of hope. And I cried happy tears with her, she hugged me, and she was just so thankful, oh my goodness. It just those are those moments that you know that your what you're doing is right, no matter how hard it is, because you can give somebody hope and that ability to do what they want to do in this life, no matter how long we have left. And I think the last thing I'll say is that disability is the only club that anyone at any point in their life can join in a second. All right, it's any moment I can become disabled. And not that that means that life ends, right? Absolutely not. But it's very sobering reality. So why isn't society doing more to make life accessible and inclusive and equitable for people with disabilities? Because we can all get there? Right?
Dia Bondi 31:10
Yes, it really hits me. You had this serendipitous moment of getting to witness somebody experiencing access tracks for the first time. But I can imagine there's opportunities for us all we're trying to do hard things and have an impact and, and running the business side of it can take us away from witnessing that. And the impact we're trying to have, like, we don't have to wait for serendipity to get to witness it and remind us why we're doing it. But we can go, we can pursue it. Absolutely. And go find it. When we know we're in need of reconnecting with the why of the thing that we're doing. And it sounds like that's been a really critical component of keeping your I don't know energy toward the thing you're trying to build.
Kelly Twichel 32:11
Yes, I, I think early on, especially as a founder, you're doing unscalable things, right, you are doing the phone calls, you're volunteering at events, you're going to trade shows you're communicating directly with every customer service, email and phone call. And those are actually good things to touch base with. Beyond the early stages, you always want to be connected in some way, shape or form to your customers. Because that can help review in your passion in reality in the feedback and how you can continue to innovate and improve your product and service throughout the lifecycle of your company. Not just early on.
Dia Bondi 32:57
So what do you want people to know about where you and access tracks are now?
Kelly Twichel 33:02
I think for me, I am really proud that I've been able to patent a product as a female inventor. That doesn't happen, unfortunately, you know, as often as you might think. And also being able to serve customers across 15 countries. I mean, pinch me, that's amazing. As a clinician, I could serve maybe 10 clients a day, usually in my own local neighborhood, right. But as an entrepreneur, you can go beyond borders, you can go beyond cultures, you can help somebody that is in a country you'll probably never travel to in your lifetime. So that's what excites me is the amount of impact I can have. And I'm really proud of what we've been able to do so far. I think in the future, my really big Northstar goal, which I'm already actively getting steps to get there is I want access tracks to be a partner for the 2028 Paralympics, which will be in LA. So right and practically my backyard. I'm in San Diego, it's in LA. I'm making connections to get there. So that's that's kind of what I would love people to know.
Dia Bondi 34:21
Well, I've worked on a few Olympic bids, so I might have a few connections. Oh, how exciting. Yeah, that's great. So for you, what, what does it mean for you to lead with who you are? For me?
Kelly Twichel 34:35
What that means is staying true to my core values and beliefs and having that show up every day in what I do. So for me, I think I mentioned this but I really value equality, equity people to choose what what they are and when When they go in their life, it's that freedom. And knowing that I can show up and do that in my career is really motivating. So, yeah, it's the authenticity and staying true to who I am and having that show up in what I do. Where can
Dia Bondi 35:17
people find you? There? You can find
Kelly Twichel 35:19
me on LinkedIn. My company name is access tracks, and that's trucks spelt with an x and our website is access tracks s d.com. So that's access trucks with an x and then SD stands for San Diego.
Dia Bondi 35:35
Fantastic. Kelly, thanks so much for being with us on leave with who you are.
Kelly Twichel 35:38
Dia Bondi 35:41
Lead with who you are is a production of Dia Bondi communications, scored, mixed and produced by Arthur Leon Adams, the third and executive produced by Mandy Miranda, you can reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave us a voicemail at 341-333-2997. You can like rate, share and subscribe at Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your favorite podcasts. Go to deobandi.com For show notes, and to learn about all it is that we do to help you speak powerfully and lead with who you are