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Impact investors join forces to back largest autistic-majority company

Published: 20 June 2023

Family-owned investment manager Ferd brokers deal to merge Auticon and Unicus to improve the employment prospects of a greater number of neurodiverse people globally.

Left to right: Unicus CEO Lars Johansson-Kjellerød, Auticon Group CEO Kurt Schöffer and CFO Markus Weber are photographed in Italy where the management board met to define details of the deal | Andrea Pella

Family-owned investment company Ferd has brokered a deal to consolidate IT consultancy firms Auticon and Unicus under a single holding company, increasing the companies’ global reach and creating what it says will be the largest autistic-majority company in the world. 

The combined companies, which will employ 575 employees of which 81% (465 people) are on the autism spectrum, have already received backing from a range of investors including Ferd, Autism Impact Fund, Ananda Impact Ventures, KOIS, Felix Porsche, Sir Richard Branson, Ferst Capital Partners, and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. 

Munich-based Auticon and Oslo-based Unicus both specialise in providing IT consultancy services to clients, including in the areas of data science, software development, cybersecurity, AI, and quality assurance and testing.   

Together the companies will operate across 14 countries across Europe, North America and New Zealand, and aim to achieve €50m in revenue and increase their combined employee base to more than 600 by the end of 2023. 

Responding to questions from Impact Investor, Espen Daae, chief investment officer for social investments at Ferd Social Entrepreneurs, which focuses on investment in social entrepreneurs and social impact companies, said: “Our primary objective is to build companies that combine sustainable and profitable business models.”  

Ferd, which holds 70% of shares in Unicus and 19% in Auticon, has invested around NOK 200m (€17.2m) to date in a range of neurodiversity-related businesses and Daae said that both companies provided a “very clear and understandable impact for an underserved target group, where individuals often find themselves excluded from the labour market”.  

Managing neurodiversity in the workplace 

The companies said that by joining forces their clients would gain access to a broader range of IT, software and management services and a larger team with a global footprint. 

Unicus’s clients, which include companies such as Equinor, SEB, H&M, DNB, OP Bank and Stora Enso, will also have access to Auticon’s consultancy related to the management of neurodiversity. Auticon clients include Allianz, Zurich, Disney, Air Liquide, Daimler, Deloitte, KPMG and IBM.  

Speaking to Impact Investor, Kurt Schöffer, Group CEO of Auticon, explained the company’s neuro-inclusion services included training and advisory services designed to help clients support and attract neurodivergent talent.  

“We provide a ‘lived experience’, which means that in addition to the training and advisory services that we provide, members of our autistic team work as IT consultants, within our clients’ offices,” he said. 

Schöffer said that through this lived experience, clients could not only appreciate the quality of work provided by its autistic consultants but also better understand the support that was needed.  

“Our training and advisory services touch each member of the team, from HR to management, and create a compassionate and supportive workplace,” he added. 

Addressing inequalities 

Both companies aim to address inequalities in employment for neurodivergent adults, highlighting the cognitive strengths of autistic adults, which they say make them particularly well-suited for careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). 

But, according to the UK’s Office of National Statistics, just 29% of autistic adults are in any form of meaningful employment.  

Schöffer explained one of the biggest obstacles facing people on the autism spectrum were traditional hiring methods and employers feeling unprepared to offer support. 

“We are addressing this by supporting our clients to overcome those hurdles with our neuro-inclusion services,” he said, adding that economies worldwide were missing a great opportunity by not becoming “a destination for neurodiverse talent”.  

“Globally, there are more technology jobs than there are available skilled tech workers. We provide great autistic talent, while reducing the over 70% unemployment rate among autistic adults,” said Schöffer, who explained that 85% of the companies’ employees had a professional qualification or university degree.  

“For those on the spectrum, they experience improved self-esteem and quality of life through a professional career. They are accepted at work for who they are and not expected to hide their autistic traits. It’s a win-win-win for our clients, our employees, and society,” he added. 

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