Kello Inclusive seeks to amplify social impact at Inventures

· The Pulse

An Edmonton-based talent agency for people with disabilities is hoping to raise its growing profile even further by participating in an international pitch competition later this spring.

Kello Inclusive was announced this week as one of the finalists in the startup pitch competition at the Inventures conference in Calgary on June 1.

"What we need is for people to know about us and understand that there's a company like us that exists to support being inclusive across industries," said Katie MacMillan, who co-founded the company with life partner Austin Allanach. "To go to a pitch competition like this, with a prize of $10,000, we would absolutely be able to use that for social impact and social good, and to increase our capacity for training."

MacMillan and Allanach formed Kello after their daughter Kelty, who has cerebral palsy, faced challenges in the modelling industry.

"We had some good experiences, but mostly it was just feeling like people were interested that Kelty was disabled, but nobody really knew what to do about that," MacMillan told Taproot. "(There were) lots of questions that either weren't asked or didn't know how to be asked."

Based on these experiences, MacMillan and Allanach realized there was a gap in representation and advocacy for disabled models. They incorporated Kello Inclusive, alongside the company's director of photography, Tilly Nelson, as a non-profit on June 1, 2022. Like for-profit talent agencies, Kello makes its money on commission through gigs for its talent.

In less than a year, Kello has built a talent roster of more than 75 people in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan. This includes the entire cast of CBC's docuseries PUSH, and models who have done work for international brands like Lancôme and lululemon.

The momentum has continued. MacMillan was recently a semifinalist in The Odlum Brown Forum Pitch competition. Kello has also added a fourth director, Liam Stewart-Kanigan, who is helping the company expand beyond modelling and into acting. And Kello models participated this month in Toronto Kids Fashion Week shows in Calgary and Edmonton.

Kello Inclusive model Emmy walks with a mobility aid backstage at Toronto Kids Fashion Week. Behind are her other child models dressed in black.

Kello Inclusive models such as Emmy have participated in Toronto Kids Fashion Week. (Supplied)

Inventures is a chance for the social enterprise to continue to make useful connections, MacMillan said.

"We'd love to grow the board, or connect with people who'd be interested in being part of the board who can bring some expertise to the table," she said. "But also, we truly want to include disability as part of those voices as well. So you know, folks who have the capacity but also identify as disabled."

In the pitch competition, Kello is competing in the Future of Work category against BillionMinds, an Oklahoma-based soft-skills training enterprise; Cya Live, a Toronto-based immersive livestreaming platform with commerce integration;, a South Africa-based decentralized ecosystem for freelancers and knowledge workers; and KindWorks.AI, a Vancouver-based implementer of kindness in the workplace.

Kello is one of just two Edmonton-based companies named as finalists. The other is vrCave, a virtual-reality escape room company, which is competing in the Metaverse category. A few other Edmonton companies are alternates: Story City in the Metaverse category, Aro Robotic Systems in the Future of Work; and 48Hour Discovery in Health Innovation.

Inventures is an annual conference hosted by Alberta Innovates that promises "three days of learning, inspiration, and creative collisions." It takes place at the Calgary TELUS Convention Centre from May 31 to June 2.