We cannot publish Cameron Jones’ initial thoughts when he was told completing an MBA was beyond his capability; they were a little bit obscene.
Suffice to say, he did not agree.
Cameron had only recently completed his electrical engineering degree at QUT when he was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease and began to lose his sight.
Initially, he had aimed towards an engineering management role but seven surgeries later, with diminishing vision, he reached a turning point.
“An MBA was something I had planned to do later in life but my hand was forced when I lost my vision in both eyes at once for the first time,” he said.
“Rather than sit at home, waiting to see if my vision would return in the long-term, I made the decision to work as hard as I could towards still building a career.”
After experiencing the usual apprehension any student does when embarking on a new degree, Cameron’s anxiety was compounded after a “gut-wrenching” appointment with an occupational therapist.
“She told me I would not be capable of finishing an MBA because my vision impairment would prevent me from seeing any lectures and I wouldn’t be able to keep up,” he said.
“My time would be better spent practising with a cane and adjusting to life without sight.
“I was blind and I needed to accept it, and get used it.”
Cameron’s story though is less about his setbacks than his triumphs. Any dejection he felt was fleeting.
“I thrive on adversity,” he said.
“Being told I was not capable lit a fire inside of me. I was determined to prove to myself, and anyone who doubted me, that I could complete the MBA.
“It actually helped more than anything.”
Cameron did not just scrape through his MBA; he finished in the top five percent of graduates and earned a Dean’s Award for Academic Excellence, alongside an MBA Director’s Award on the way to graduation.
“My experience has created a different story to the one I was told 18 months ago,” he said.
“It has made me realise how easy it is for others’ opinions to impose limits on us.”
After finishing his coursework in July, Cameron spent time travelling in Scandinavia.
It was during a flight between Iceland and Sweden he began developing the idea to start a not-for-profit venture, called Catalyst Collective, aimed at helping people with disability to take control of their lives.
“During my study I was provided with assistive technology and surrounded by a diverse group of extremely supportive people,” he said.
“I wanted to combine those two elements in a public space for people like me who wanted to start their own business but, until now, had no existing accessible or inclusive environment to do so.
“Through encouraging startup creation for people with a disability, we’re playing to their strengths: resilience, problem-solving, and innovative thinking.
“On an individual level, it creates meaningful and fulfilling work that is tailored to suit one’s lifestyle, whatever that lifestyle may be.
“It’s also a way to reduce unemployment and increase labour force participation as well as shift general community perceptions.
“In Australia, people with a disability are one and a half times more likely to be entrepreneurs.
“We want to increase that by breaking down barriers and helping people start their own business.”
Although he has found starting Catalyst Collective “a little bit daunting”, Cameron said being named the 2018 QUT Graduate School of Business Entrepreneur in Residence has enabled a significant step forward.
“I’m quite private about my personal journey, so I was not very comfortable leveraging off that, but in the end, I felt it was the best way to reach out to people, so went for it,” he said.
“Being named the Entrepreneur in Residence has given me access to facilities and all the awesome expertise (at the Graduate School of Business) as well as somewhere to launch the Catalyst Collective pilot.
“There is also free coffee!”
The Catalyst Collective is now accepting applicants and will launch with a free pilot early in 2018. To find out more information or apply to be part of the accelerator program visit www.catalystco.co.