Black History, Today: Kevin Dedner & Hurdle Health

This year, we are spending Black History Month learning about Black leaders in healthcare technology – but leaders of our present day, not the past.

History is, of course, oppressively present in the lives of Black Americans. For example, we see the impact of racial bias and white supremacy in how difficult it is for Black founders of startup companies to get funding. Last year, Crunchbase News noted that only 1% of venture capital funding went to startups with one or more Black founders. The Holloway Guide to Raising Venture Capital noted that even less funding goes to companies led by Black women.

Here at ScriptDrop, we believe that in order for American healthcare to meet the needs of the people, the startup environment needs to reflect all the diversity of our country. That’s why we’re celebrating Black-founded and Black-led healthcare technology startups this month (and in the months to come). Join us!

Kevin Dedner, founder and CEO of Hurdle Health, was struggling with burnout and depression.

In 2018, Dedner, a public health professional with over 20 years of experience, was looking for a therapist he could trust. While Dedner was eventually successful in his journey, he found the process much more difficult than it ought to be. As he wrote in 2020, “I found myself weighed down by the exhausting task of having to convince [each therapist] of the importance of my experience in the world as a Black man.”

Dedner didn’t want other Black patients to struggle like he did. That’s why he founded Hurdle Health, a mental healthcare platform focused on serving people of color. Hurdle’s therapists are trained in cultural intentionality and cultural humility so they can provide compassionate care to patients from diverse backgrounds. Last year, Dedner spoke about this in a video for StartUp Health:

…the idea of ‘cultural competency’ is a bit arrogant, in itself, if you think about it. That means that you’ve taken some class or training and you walk away thinking you know all about me and my culture, my history, and my family. … So what I like more is the term ‘humility.’ And this is what we train our therapists to work from, this concept of humility. Humility means I may not have the same bank of experiences that you have, but yet I am going to ask you the right questions to make you feel comfortable, to make your experiences honored, and to make you feel that I am believing your truth. … You can’t have humility if you aren’t intentional about it.

The company was initially called Henry Health and focused on therapy specifically for Black men. But in August 2020 – only half a year into the pandemic, and in the face of immense need for accessible mental healthcare – the company rebranded and expanded their mission to include all patients.

Provider fit is key to positive mental health outcomes for any patient. However, the mental health workforce is far from diverse. According to 2019 data, 60-80% of therapists, counselors, and social workers are white. Many white providers are not trained in the cultural humility Dedner described, and aren’t comfortable discussing discrimination or racism. That’s a non-starter for patients of color. In addition, people of color are affected by stigma and social determinants of health differently than white patients, and that difference needs to be respected. They need care that takes their lived experience into account, and Hurdle meets that need.

Since 2020, Hurdle has continued to flourish. In January 2021, Dedner and his team raised a $5 million seed round. In February 2022, Hurdle expanded their availability into California, Massachusetts, and Texas. In September, they announced an enterprise partnership with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.

But while enterprise partnerships are key to growth for a platform like Hurdle, the company continues to center communities of color. Hurdle has developed partnerships with community and faith-based organizations, like the Young Kings Leadership Academy in Baltimore and East Friendship Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. By integrating their services into the community and as a complement to education and religious worship, Hurdle meets patients literally where they are.

Kevin Dedner and Hurdle are doing important work. Much like Cityblock Health and Mahmee, Hurdle is giving back to the Black community by providing value-based, compassionate care. We are happy to see Hurdle and other telehealth platforms ensuring that all patients have access to mental healthcare that is culturally intentional and humble. We hope that cultural humility as a therapeutic concept – and in general – catches on.