Autistic Owned Business of the Month: Jess Friday, Co-Founder of Villej
Autistic. ADHD. Queer. Neurodiversity, accessibility, mental wellness and eco-socialism advocate. These are just a few of the adjectives Jess has used to describe herself in the past. This month she is adding the word “Neur-dy” to that list, a term that she feels sums up her own personality, lived experiences and loyalties.
Jess Friday is a late-identified autistic and self-described serial entrepreneur who recently co-founded the online collective marketplace, Villej. Based out of her home town of Greenville, North Carolina, Villej empowers neurodivergent, disabled, and otherwise marginalized people and communities to meet their vocational needs locally through cooperation globally. The site features exclusively autistic creatives, makers and business owners who might not otherwise have a platform to share their gifts with the world. It is her special interest and her passion.
Jess was not always so focused. Earlier in life Jess had been labeled as highly gifted academically, but struggled in her life with maintaining friendships and carrying out simple tasks that her peers found easy. Some days accomplishment came easy to her but on others she had to fight to simply get through the day. Twenty years later Jess found out that – like many women of her age – she had a received a misdiagnosis earlier in life that never quite felt right to her and only caused more confusion.
After almost twenty years she happened upon some materials that detailed exactly what autism really is, and for the first time was able to look beyond the stereotypes and in the process she found herself. For Jess, that was the missing key that unlocked her true self – she was autistic! At last, a lifetime of battling to maintain gainful employment or embark on a career path, failure of business after business and an inability to turn her creative passions into ways to make a living made perfect sense.
“…and at last, I found the community where I belonged, where I was seen and heard for who I truly was. Where my experiences were finally validated. I finally found friendships where I was free to be my real self.”
In 2022 Jess cofounded Villej, which Jess envisions as a neurodivergent-lead metaverse and real world networking technology platform that enables autistic, disabled and otherwise marginalized people to thrive as individuals and as a community while shaping an inclusive and accessible future. In other words, Jess sees her organization as a ‘helper’ bringing people together to make the world better.
The mission at Villej is to create an interdependent marketplace that empowers neurodivergent creators, entrepreneurs, and freelancers. In the future, the site plans to build connective and accessible technologies to help with business administration to help creatives free up their time to focus on what they do best – create! “Marketing and promotion can be very challenging for us” , says Jess. “But imagine if you could learn from the best and most successful autistic entrepreneurs. To be able to follow their footprints, use the templates and steps so that you can focus on your innovations.”
[Consumers and supporters can visit the Villej web platform and directory at www.buildthevillej.com.]
“We’re going to work on this collaboratively, bridging our strengths together through the power of our community. And in doing so, we’ll learn that what we thought were weaknesses are actually our strengths. All of us will finally see the truth; It’s not us that’s broken,” says Jess. “It’s the world. And together, we’re going to change it!”