Local start up creates tech jobs and community for those with autism

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. -- A local start-up designed to help the needs of one person 10 years ago is now touching the lives of countless others.

Hidden just off the busy streets of suburban Highland Park is the headquarters of Aspiritech, a first business of its kind in the U.S.

It was founded by Moshe and Brenda Weitzberg in their basement. They were desperately trying to help their college educated son, Oran, find a job. Their son was living with Asperger’s Syndrome.

The solution was pairing autism and computers. Aspiritech started with three computer testers, or analysts as they’re called, and one client in the family’s basement. Today, it is 65 analysts strong in a tech environment that might impress even Google.

The mission is to employ this largely unemployed population by testing computer programs for problems or glitches. It's tedious work companies typically outsource overseas.

“The business community realized that people on the spectrum have something special, the ability to detect irregularities, ability to focus for a  longer period of time,” Moshe said. “It’s very difficult work we do.”

Difficult work taken very seriously because Moshe said quality assurance is priority No. 1 at Aspiritech.

Clients include Bose, Aon Hewitt, Zebra Technologies and Empire Carpet to name a few. And when Aspiritech conducted an independent study asking the clients why they chose to work with the start up, Brenda said, “Number one was quality. Number two was price. The missing was only number three.”

Weitzbergs had also already discovered the key to Aspiritech’s success -- quite accidentally.

“People wanted to sit as far as possible from each other,” Moshe said "I used to joke with them that the moon is not far enough.”

Worried about quality control, the boss required all computer bugs discovered to also be checked by a co-worker. He wanted a consensus before alerting a client about a glitch.

“The result was that suddenly they started to think together. Suddenly they liked to work together,” he said. “This brought me to the idea that we found the missing piece.”

So people help the employees stay on task by building a community. Field trips and outings for a group are often thought of as not social at all.

Aspiritech caters to the special needs of the adult community by tweaking their workplace while workers are tweaking technology. There are headphones for focus, a dim, quiet room to escape office commotion and even a swing as a helpful retreat. There’s a conversation spot where employees can lunch and chat away. There’s also the quiet kitchen to get away from it all.

They keep all their employees under one roof and they don’t send them to clients’ corporate offices. They also require the employees on the spectrum to interact with the clients. Even though their communication skills may be poor, he says it’s necessary and good.

Employees from 21 to 63 are regularly promoted from within and some of them make upwards of $80,000 a year. There is health insurance for full-timers and support staff like a social worker and an autism specialist in the office daily.

Courtney Heiss, 28, has been testing for computer problems for five years. It’s her first and only job out of college.

“I actually moved out from Colorado Springs, Colorado to work at Aspiritech.”

She says she loves her job. Right now, she is making sure the Bose app is fully compatible with iTunes. She loves the people she works with.

The startup is like the Little Engine that Could now with a $2 million a year operating budget and almost more work than they can handle.

They keep it running by catering to clients, delivering on their promises and treating the testers with understanding, patience and heart. Because at Aspiritech nobody is wired wrong.

Right now, Aspiritech is looking for analysts and is hoping to expand to the city to attract more testers. Making it even easier to access public transportation.