How one entrepreneur refused to let his autism hold him back
Joe Steffy, who was born with down syndrome and later diagnosed with autism, was told he would likely never be hired for a normal day job. Officials at his school told him he would struggle to communicate, have a difficult time caring for himself, and likely always be dependent on others.
They were right about one of those things: Steffy may never be hired. That’s because he’s too busy running his own successful company. With help from his parents, Steffy, now 30, started Poppin Joe’s Gourmet Kettle Korn in 2005.
The Kansas Department for Developmental Disabilities provided Steffy with a startup grant to grow the business and he now oversees two retail locations: one in Louisburg, Kansas and another in Brunswick, Georgia.
The company sells a variety of kettle corn products to retail outlets, festivals and specialty events and regularly ships batches of its product to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“My business works for me,” Steffy said recently. “It creates new opportunities for me to grow as a person, and to be an engaged, valued member of my community.”
Today, Steffy is a sole proprietor and employs seven seasonal workers. In 2016, he brought in $67,000 in gross sales (up more than four-fold from the $15,000 he made in 2005).