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An MBA’s AirBnB For The Disabled

Srin Madipalli (left) and Martyn Sibley, founders of Accomable. Courtesy photo

Srin Madipalli (left) and Martyn Sibley, founders of Accomable. Courtesy photo

Srin Madipalli is a builder. He’s an adventurer. He’s very well-educated and traveled. He also has spinal muscular atrophy and has been in a mechanical wheelchair since birth. But that hasn’t slowed or thwarted his ambitions in the slightest. Quite the contrary, in fact. the Oxford MBA grad has been a corporate lawyer, dived in deep, blue oceans and camped in the South African brush. He’s had his van attacked by baboons and he’s flown miles high over the oceans he’s dived in.

Of course, not all of Madipalli’s life has been a romanticized life of wanderlust. As Madipalli recalled in a column he penned for BBC, his traveling has been met with many frustrations. Once, in Sydney he landed with a smashed up and damaged wheelchair and was stranded for the night waiting for a mechanic to fix it. In Bali, he spent hours on the phone with the manufacturer of his wheelchair’s battery charger because it was broken and he had no idea where to get another before his wheelchair completely died. In Las Vegas, his personal assistant went out for a drink and ended up in a drunken brawl and was detained. Madipalli was left stranded in his hotel room unable to reach a phone to call for help. The list goes on.

“It was a growing frustration,” Madipalli, 30, tells Poets&Quants on a Skype call from his native London. So Madipalli and his friend, Martyn Sibley, who did a lot of the traveling with him and also has spinal muscular atrophy, decided to do something about it. They founded a Accomable, a website for disabled-friendly rental properties around the world. In short, it’s an AirBnB for disabled people.

THE SIX-MONTH VACATION TO BEGIN IT ALL

The idea for Accomable began when Madipalli was bored as a corporate lawyer. He spent nearly five years working up to 15 hours a day in equity and infrastructure funds. And it was about as fun as it sounds. So Madipalli took a six-month vacation to travel the world. “Each time I traveled it was the same thing,” Madipalli recalls. “I can’t find a place that’s accessible, I can’t find pictures of the place. I can’t find any information.”

Nevertheless, the duo pressed on. They also created a blog and online magazine called Disability Horizons to serve as a news source and community for the disabled community. They soon learned they were certainly not alone in the desire to travel and adventure. They also learned other wheelchair-bound individuals experienced similar frustrations with rental properties.

“There are people who do want to get out there and travel more but they just haven’t had the opportunity or the services to do that,” asserts Madipalli.

TAPPING INTO THE OXFORD SAID SOCIAL ENTERPRISE FOCUS

The frustration swelled so much, Madipalli quit his job as a corporate lawyer to attend business school. The London native enrolled in the full-time MBA program at the University of Oxford’s Said Business School in 2012 and immediately began tapping into the social entrepreneurship-focused areas the Said Business School is infamous for.

The focus on social entrepreneurship is something that’s “reiterated at the business school,” says Madipalli. “You’re working on problems that are really going to have an impact on people’s lives,” he continues, recalling his B-school projects.

Madipalli used courses such as entrepreneurial finance, entrepreneurial project and designed thinking, which he says taught him how to understand user needs and how to empathize with users. He also worked on other ventures in the Oxford Launchpad and was one of the founding committee members of the Oxford Seed Fund, a student-run fund to invest in alumni and student early stage ventures.