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Flow, Inc. (Flow) is a tech-breath social enterprise focusing on Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) services by empowering people with disabilities. The concept is the first ever conducted globally, particularly in this industry.
Steve Chang, the founder, was motivated to have a more positive societal impact. Eventually, he and his team decided to help people prone to inequalities, specifically disabled people, by establishing a social enterprise. After 29 iterations of finding a perfect balance of minimum viable products, the company decided to pick BIM and AI as its solutions by leveraging technology to enable a good working environment for disabled people. Thus, Flow was born. With the company's belief, "Right people in the right loop," Flow ensures everyone has the same opportunity to create value by removing hindrances and upskilling their strengths.
Until now, Flow has kept exploring and iterating on possible services to offer within the industry while also doing campaigns to stimulate more people to apply a similar concept of social enterprise management. Through technological innovation, Flow has succeeded in making meaning and money simultaneously.
In 2022, there were 1,200,000 people with disabilities in Taiwan, of which 800,000 have job needs, whereas 140,000 cannot go out to work. Being aware of this issue, Flow stood to support disabled people. They believe everyone should have equal opportunity, including a job. Flow identified that the employment rate for disabled people is meager, and making a viable business model for it would be a complex challenge. However, that didn't stop Flow from trying; instead, the pains told a different story. The company tasted many other business models until they found the most suitable one with their objective and appetite by turning disabled people into tech professionals.
The company is divided into two big departments: BIM and AI. The AI Data Service Division, part of the AI department, develops a data processing platform for computer vision and trains people with disabilities at home to become AI data annotators, providing safe, fast, and high-quality labeling data. Sometimes, this division collaborates with AI scientists to offer comprehensive data strategy consulting services. Since most of the recruited disabled employees have difficulty leaving their homes due to physical limitations, the company entitles them to fewer working hours. Flow successfully scored a low turnover ratio so far and has around 200 of the 400 people trained with long-term contracts.
The other department, the BIM Service Division, gathers professionals with rich experience in engineering design and construction practice to train disabled people to become professional modeling engineers. It provides BIM model construction and related application technologies. The BIM division offers full-time jobs for disabled people who are capable of more physical movement (i.e. able to walk or need less supporting equipment). About half of this division is disabled and primarily works as modeling engineers.
Flow constantly updates its technology, attracts diverse talents, and enhances its employees' skills to improve its competitiveness with the regular industry players. Flow has several strategies to make its products competitive. For instance, AI services, such as a skeletal workforce system, a credible annotation platform, and thorough quality inspection, can provide added value beyond their precision. Another example is the BIM service offering product additionalities, such as innovative field system solutions, lean project capabilities, rich experience, and professionalism in executing projects.
The company's founder, Steve Chang, once said, “The blue ocean economy of social enterprises does not mean feeding fish or giving fishing rods; instead, it means generating new value in new domains and utilizing new methods.” Steve and his team were initially divided into two opinions: helping people or helping nature. Despite the complexity and low prioritization by stakeholders, the team deliberately decided to address human-focused issues.
Long story short, the team agreed to choose disabled employees as their enterprise’s social theme. In Taiwan, the existing solutions mainly focus on labor-intensive industries, such as the bakery shop from The Sheltered Workshop of "Children Are Us Foundation" and the gas station of "Sunshine Social Welfare Foundation." Yet Flow spotted the opportunity for training and employability in the technology industry, which is the profession of the founder. The founder and his team started to design many social enterprises’ business models, such as 3D scanning, tourism, and customer service, to find a proper business model that suits disabled people well. The efforts ended up with BIM and AI as tangible solutions.
Flow’s ultimate goal is to eradicate societal discrimination, enabling every individual to have equal chances of receiving an education and securing employment. Flow believes everyone can shine if obstacles are removed and people are placed in the correct position to achieve this goal. Flow addresses the issues of the low labor participation rate, the high short-term contractual employment ratio, and long waiting times during the job-seeking process for people with disabilities in Taiwan. The company does so by assisting them to become digital laborers, enabling their financial self-sufficiency and augmenting their sense of self-value.
To fundamentally address the employability of people with disabilities, Flow provides direct job opportunities through employment opportunities while nurturing, engaging, and empowering the target group. In addition, Flow is committed to raising society's awareness and hopes to inspire people to promote changes. For example, the official website has an interest-chat room, sharing their experiences and successful social innovation cases globally and even providing inquiry mailboxes to answer social innovation questions from the public. In addition, Flow also actively participates in various types of government and civil activities, including School 28 (a social Innovation school project), the c, the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Creative Proposal Competition, etc.
Flow's efforts have been affirmed by awards, such as the Taiwan Corporate Sustainability Awards - Best DEI Employer Award in 2022, the PwC Sustainable Impact Gold Award in 2021, and the HR Asia - Best Employer Award in 2021. These awards prove the value and influence of Flow.
Ryan, the Impact Development Manager of Flow, explained during our interview: “The company's focus efforts are not to recruit disabled people as much as possible in Taiwan, but rather to discover a business model that can be duplicated and scaled up in handling this disabled employment issue, then share the company’s own experience to other business players and the new generation of social entrepreneurs.” In recent years, Flow established a branch in Japan to expand its impact. Moreover, Flow has received inquiries from all over Asia to learn more about its approach and success concerning diversity, equity, and inclusion, proving the success of Flow's business model.
Since 2013, Flow has been developing from a pioneer into a top 3 player in the BIM industry in Taiwan, occupying a position in the market by providing high-quality services at competitive prices. Flow convinces customers with products, not compassion. Although Flow's training costs are high, they can save on recruitment expenses because of the low turnover rate of the employees. Flow's BIM business department has achieved a break-even point and is operating stably. For the customers, Flow’s services provide competitive advantages, such as a professional BIM technical team, a wide range of experiences from medical buildings to transportation construction, Lean project capabilities, and smart field strategy solutions.
The AI business department, established in 2018, provides a full range of AI data processing services. Compared with handing over to engineers and self-employed part-timers for labeling, the service provided by Flow can offer benefits such as management cost reduction and data insights.
The company mainly focuses on SDG4, Quality Education; SDG8, Decent Work and Economics; and SDG10, Reduced Inequality:
(the data below are per 2022/12/31)
SDG #4 - Quality Education
Flow gathers professional partners across fields to design education and training courses that meet the needs of disabled people. Flow has built an online interactive course platform and a teaching evaluation system for disabled people who cannot go out to obtain certification as AI data annotators. For disabled people who can go to the office, Flow provides free BIM training courses and adjusts the teaching content in response to the needs of the industry.
SDG#8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
Flow creates employment opportunities for disabled people. It not only promotes Taiwan's economic development by lowering the unemployment rate, but also creates commercial value for corporate customers and even brings economic improvement, dignity, and self-confidence to disabled people.
SDG #10 - Reduced Inequality
Flow provides physical and psychological support. Flow not only strengthened software and hardware facilities and tools to reduce the physical limitations of disabled people but also established a diverse and inclusive team and set regular breakfast meetings led by counselors to promote an equality mindset and establish a sense of workplace psychological safety.
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Ryan Pan, Impact Development Manager
Jill Tseng, Senior Marketing Specialist
Flow, Inc. is an innovative social enterprise that specializes in providing technology application services, including Building Information Modeling and Artificial Intelligence. The company has developed a business model that seamlessly aligns with the resources available in the ecosystem, ensuring optimal efficiency in delivering its services. Flow aims to create a replicable business model that can inspire social entrepreneurs across various regions, empowering them to make a positive impact in their communities.