Best mates apply Monash commerce skills to build successful disability support service

David Bookman and Ryan Kagan

David Bookman and Ryan Kagan are best friends and business partners, using the skills and knowledge they have gained at Monash Business School to help improve the lives of people with disabilities.

The two Bachelor of Commerce students have launched Buttons Support Services, a thriving start-up matching support workers with people with disabilities through the NDIS.

They have come a long way since their final year of high school, when their top priorities outside studying were “footy and socialising”.

On the cusp of the pandemic in early 2020, the pair took a risk to launch Buttons Support after identifying what they saw as a gap in the market.

Buttons Support Services aims to positively impact the lives of people with disabilities, and encourage young people to work in the sector as support workers.

The service’s ethos is to match children and adults with disabilities to age- appropriate, personality-specific support workers, which aims to build good, sustainable relationships and allow both parties to thrive.

The pair said since launching, Buttons Support Services rates had paid a collective $50,000 above industry award rates, to the support workers on their books.

“For far too long people with a disability and their families have yearned for relatable, authentic and reliable people to support them,” David says.

“Through Buttons, young adults are delivering this support, while injecting a new energy into the sector.

“Our aim is to make the support work role as accessible and comfortable as possible for young adults. If we can do a good job in supporting more young support workers to transition into this role, we as a community will be better for it.”

For both students, the desire to make a difference in the disability support sector manifested during their school years.

After finishing VCE, David and Ryan both volunteered with Flying Fox Camps, a youth-led recreational camp network for special-needs kids, gaining their first experience of disabled advocacy.

Taking a gap year in 2016 before beginning their Bachelor of Commerce degrees, they also took up paid employment with Flying Fox, the camp network’s parent organisation which gives young people with disabilities positive social interactions and life-changing experiences.

Throughout their studies they balanced work in the disability sector with study commitments, before striking out on their own venture.

“When David and Ryan saw a problem in the disability sector they actively worked to solve it”

David says Flying Fox taught them “commerce/business and social change can be one and the same”.

“In-terms of learning opportunities, experience and personal fulfillment, I felt that starting our own business really ticked all those boxes,” David says.

“We constantly have to teach ourselves new skills, confront new challenges – which is extremely beneficial for a young professional.”

Ryan, who studied marketing as part of his degree, described launching a new venture in 2020 on the cusp of the pandemic as “an interesting environment”.

“(But) we kept our goal really simple: Validate the service. I think we have done that, and our focus now is scaling and creating new initiatives that cater to the needs of the industry,” he says.

“To have studied both finance and marketing has certainly enhanced my ability to create and grow a professional service, driven by passion and social change.”

Associate Professor Nicholas McGuigan, Director of Monash Business School’s Equity, Diversity and Social Inclusion portfolio, said the Business School celebrated initiatives such as Buttons.

“We are interested in advancing positive change across industries and we go out of our way to facilitate that type of development across our programs,” Associate Professor McGuigan said.

“When David and Ryan saw a problem in the disability sector they actively worked to solve it, launching Buttons Support Services as a dynamic, engaging organisation that partners with its young support workers and clients to bring about authentic relationships and reliable support to those in need."