Starting and growing a business is never easy, but the normal stressors of entrepreneurship are only compounded for Black business owners.
In my own experience as founder and CEO of Hurdle, I have found that the daily requirements of growing and running a company add just another layer of challenge to the already difficult experience of existing as a Black man in America.
In honor of Black Business Month, I have been reflecting on some of the experiences that have shaped my entrepreneurial journey, as well as the strategies I’ve learned for protecting the mental health of both myself and my team.
Securing Capital as a Black Founder
When I look back on my fundraising journey with Hurdle, I am surprised that I kept moving forward. I started fundraising in 2018 and quickly grew discouraged as investor after investor turned me down. I knew there was a need for the solution I was trying to build — a better way for Black men and other disenfranchised groups to navigate the mental healthcare system — but most investors just didn’t see it the same way I did.
This was before the summer of 2020, when George Floyd’s murder sparked a social movement and shined a new light inequities in every aspect of our society, including healthcare. That tragic event was a wake-up call for many Americans, and as a result, Black founders like myself have been pushed to center stage and finally asked to share our ideas.
Even so, Black founders still struggle to access the capital they need to scale their startups. In the first half of 2022, Black founders received just 1.2% of the venture dollars invested in the U.S..
My belief in Hurdle’s importance was strong enough to help me persevere through adversity, but the extra effort was immensely stressful and took a toll on my mental health.
To Better Help Others, First Help Yourself
While there are many reasons to start a business, I have found that most entrepreneurs share a common belief that their work can make a positive impact on the world. For some, that means building a product that solves a problem, while for others, it might look like providing a service that people need or creating jobs in their own communities.
That belief is especially important for Black business owners, because it keeps us going on days when we wonder if all of the struggle is worth the reward, and it reminds us that our business is not only about us.
I started Hurdle because I wanted to address the systemic barriers I’d encountered while navigating the mental healthcare system as a Black man. I believed that there had to be a better way to make therapy accessible to disenfranchised groups, and I was determined to build the solution I myself had needed.
However, I quickly realized that if I was not making an intentional effort to preserve my own mental health, I would not be able to lead effectively, make wise decisions, and ultimately grow the business.
This idea is radical in the startup world, where rapid growth is prioritized above all else. But something changed when I realized that I was not just building a start-up, I was building a company that’s here to stay for the long term. If I don’t take steps to actively manage my stress, I will not be able to show up day after day as the person and leader I want to be.
Learning to manage my mental health has been an ongoing journey, and I am still constantly evolving. In that process, I have learned that having a toolbox of strategies that help me manage my mental health is key to my performance. I know that my needs are always evolving as well, so I try to frequently refresh the toolbox with new practices that serve me in a given season.
For example, these days, I practice meditation and breathing exercises, I exercise, I garden, and I take walks in the middle of the day. These activities help me to stay grounded and show up each day as the healthiest possible version of myself.
If I don’t take steps to actively manage my stress, I will not be able to show up day after day as the person and leader I want to be.
- Kevin Dedner, MPH
Building a Culture of Mental Wellness
Those same principles of minimizing stress and prioritizing mental health are equally important for the rest of the Hurdle team. I have worked hard to build a culture where mental wellbeing is not just talked about, but put into practice every week.
For example, we’ve carved out specific times when we don’t hold meetings, allowing team members to feel more productive and focused. On Fridays, our only meetings are “Friday Wins,” where we celebrate the week’s highlights and affirm each other for a job well done. We also regularly bring in wellness experts and digital health leaders who share practical tools, advice, and guidance to help our team members better care for their mental health.
These practices are not just an added perk of working for Hurdle or a routine to check off our to-do lists each week. When team members are able to be their healthiest, happiest selves both in and outside of the workplace, they’re better equipped to do good work, build strong relationships with their co-workers, and make Hurdle’s mission their own.
As Black business owners, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the obstacles we face every single day. But investing in your mental health will pay off in dividends. Think about what it is you need to be able to show up as your fullest, healthiest self, and allow yourself to believe that you are worth the investment. Your business needs you to show up as the healthiest and fullest version of yourself possible.