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Local business owner finds inspiration in discomfort

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Published on: Thursday, July 25, 2013

By Donna Broadway

ROCKVILLE – It’s hard to miss Lisa Daly. She’s the woman with the tousled auburn hair, black attire and a custom pair of Converse shoes. Her shoes may be lace, black pin stripe or ruby like Dorothy’s, but she is always wearing Converse shoes. She also invented a black piece of plastic called the Sensory Shield.

Daly invented it after finding that the 30-minute Metro ride from Rockville to her job as an attorney at the House of Representatives overly stimulated a sensory processing issue related to her autism.

“I didn’t like it when people would sit in the Metro and accidently touch me or their hand would reach across my face; it was just too much for me. I wanted something between me and the person next to me so I can have my own personal space,” Daly said. “My therapists said they thought it was something that could be of use to other people. I kind of thought it was just me, I didn’t think anyone else would want it.”

Daly did not intend to sell the Sensory Shield, but due to positive feedback, she decided to create a business plan and submit it to the Maryland Women’s Business Center for the 2012 Start Right! grant contest.

“If I got positive feedback, I would pursue it,” Daly said. There would be eight judges who know about business and they would give you feedback on the plan. The entrance fee was $25. So for $25, eight people will look at your plan. I didn’t think about winning it, I just thought about getting their opinions on what I wanted to do; that just seemed like a good value.”

When Daly made it to the next round, she almost dropped out of the competition. Daly was required to complete a PowerPoint presentation, during which she would speak in front of the judges. Daly said she is not a social person and often finds it difficult to speak to people. Her job as an attorney does not require her to litigate; instead, she does research, writing and problem solving.

After being encouraged by Alicia McLeod of the Maryland Women’s Business Center, Daly taught herself PowerPoint and completed her presentation. Daly learned she won a $5,000 grant on the drive home from the presentation.

“Lisa is an incredibly savvy and driven entrepreneur.  She came to the Women's Business Center with a great idea and, after attending our Business Plan Intensive class and doing her homework, she turned it into a great business plan,” said Lori Gillen, managing director of the Maryland Women's Business Center. “Now she is focused on building her business and she has garnered great national publicity and support from the autism community for Sensory Shield.”

 Daly’s win brought her to the attention of the autism community. Earlier this year, Daly was invited to Pittsburgh to attend one of the largest autism conferences in the country.

“The thing that I am offering is a new invention, and it’s not like anything that is offered to people. It is rewarding to see that. Being a part of the competition allowed me to get the positive feedback and have the structure to think through the plan and every aspect of the business,” Daly said. “It was important, especially for people like me who have never done this before. I didn’t know much about how to run a business and the competition was a valuable part of learning how to put it all in order.”

The Sensory Shield is in its prototype phase and is projected to be available in 2014.

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