Diversity & Inclusion

Ethical Entrepreneurship: Making the Right Call

When it comes to entrepreneurship, necessity is the mother of innovation.

Kevin Dedner Headshot

“You can find investors and become part of a network that cements and reaffirms your values.” – Kevin Dedner, founder and CEO of Hurdle

The author of this proverb is disputed. Some people attribute it to Plato while others say its author is unknown.

But what isn’t in dispute is that history has shown, time and again, that some of the world’s most innovative products and services were created out of personal necessity.

At one time, Kevin Dedner was in serious need. He was in a dark place and suffering from a severe bout of depression.

Kevin’s biggest hurdle to overcoming his mental health problems was finding bespoke therapy that would uniquely “understand and connect” with his life as an African American man in the U.S..

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), members of the African American community are oftentimes the recipients of inferior mental healthcare. Moreover, they lack access to culturally-sensitive care.

Tellingly, APA figures suggest that only one-third of African Americans, who are in need of mental healthcare actually receive it.

Satisfying this unmet need has become the raison d’être for Kevin’s digital mental health platform – appropriately named Hurdle – which is dedicated to positively transforming the mental health experience for Black, diverse and other underserved communities.

Consolidating lessons learned

With Hurdle having recently completed its third year in business, Kevin is now making the transition from founder to CEO, which isn’t always a seamless one.

“Founders should eventually become CEOs, but not all founders can make the transition to CEO.

“I’m in this space where I’m trying to find my footing as a CEO,” he says.

So, the timing of Kevin’s entry into the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center's Mentorship Circle program couldn’t have been better.

“The founders on the program were at a variety of stages. Some were very early in their ideation process, others had raised funds and a number of founders hadn’t raised any funds at all.

“The conversations I had were more about confirming and solidifying a lot of lessons learned over the last year and I appreciated the space to do so,” he says.

One of the lessons the DC-based founder learned was about ethical entrepreneurship:

“Those of us who have a business that has social impact value don’t get to escape the responsibility of making money for our investors.

“There’s constant tension within every good social impact company where founders ask themselves, ‘how are these business decisions measuring up against my core values?’”

Kevin found the class on ‘ethical leadership’ particularly instructive in this area.

“I’ve learned that you can find investors and become part of a network that cements and reaffirms your values. This isn’t something you’re sure about in the early days. It takes experience to learn that.

“The upshot is that you don’t have to compromise who you are. You can very well find investors who are completely aligned with you,” he says.

You don’t have to compromise who you are. You can very well find investors who are completely aligned with you.

Cultivating confidence

Kevin isn’t new to the mentoring scene.

“Most accelerators are general programs,” he says. “But I’ve never been part of a program that was specifically built for Black people, which was really helpful because I’m building a company whose aim is to serve Black people.

“What is special about the program is that we had this space to acknowledge that venture-backed fundraising is inherently unfair for people of color.

“There are greater expectations placed on minorities before their companies can secure venture-backing just as there are for people who don’t come from generational wealth or networks of people who don’t have the liquidity to invest in their ideas.

“Just being in a space where that was acknowledged and we were able to speak our truth, be heard and be believed, was incredibly important.”

Due to issues such as the racial disparity in receiving VC funding, self-confidence levels among Black entrepreneurs tend to be lower than their non-Black counterparts.

This is where Kevin says that programs like the Mentorship Circle play a critical role.

“What is most helpful about this program is that it instills confidence in the participants and confirms that they’re on the right path.

“One of my favorite writers is the late James Baldwin and I’m often reminded of one of his quotes when he said something along the lines of: ‘when I first started writing, all I needed was somebody to affirm that I could write.’

“Minority founders are less likely to get that affirmation, but it’s pivotal and can affect whether or not they can even begin to become successful,” he says.

Elevating entrepreneurship

Hurdle is making good on its mission to “ensure people can show up whole, operate with joy, and live with power.”

In January 2021, the company announced that it had “successfully closed a $5m Series Seed financing” co-led by 406 Ventures and Seae Ventures with participation from F-Prime.

“With depression spiking in Black and minority communities, this year is an inflection point in mental healthcare.

“The events of 2020 present a unique opportunity for Hurdle to create solutions that work for anyone but, most importantly, for the most underserved populations,” says Kevin.

Hurdle will use the funds to expand its platform.

Kevin continues: “With this financing, Hurdle will significantly expand its reach and be able to help corporate and payer customers cement their diversity and inclusion commitments by providing broader access to culturally-responsive mental health services.”

He hopes that other founders and entrepreneurs on mentorship programs “draw some encouragement” from his experience with Hurdle.

Kevin’s advice to them is to trust the mentoring process.

“In any environment, the value of any conversation lies in whether or not you can trust,” he says.

“If you go back to the essentials of our hierarchical needs – we could even refer to Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ – you can’t go on to become a self-actualized person and accomplish things in life without safety. And trust is at the core of it.”

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

Kieron Johnson

Kieron Johnson is a content/communications consultant to emerging and established brands.

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