For many individuals in traditionally underserved communities, getting behavioral health assistance is a major issue. This is especially true for Black men, who are prone to anxiety and depression due to the disproportionate levels of discrimnation they face, but who are less likely than other groups to receive assistance because of stigma and a lack of accessible services.
To fill that void, enter Hurdle, a digital behavioral health startup that specializes in treating underserved demographics whose unique cultural experiences aren’t always addressed in therapy.
Based in Washington, D.C., Hurdle offers telehealth therapy and workshops for stress management and grief coping, as well as digital self-care apps for users.
In the company’s short lifespan, it has attracted investor attention and national praise, most recently raising $5 million in a seed funding round led by Seae Ventures and 406 Ventures, with participation from F-Prime Capital Partners. Additionally, Hurdle took part in Morgan Stanley’s 2020 Multicultural Innovation Lab, an accelerator program for minority- and women-owned startups.
Hurdle co-founder and CEO Kevin Dedner, a Black man and former public health consultant, got the idea for the company after noticing the cultural treatment gap in both his professional and personal life.
“My interest in mental health first started as a purely professional interest,” Dedner told Behavioral Health Business. “Early on, I was beginning to see mental health as a public health issue. And I became particularly alarmed over the correlation between unmanaged stress and untreated mental health issues for black men.”
Dedner ultimately found himself identifying with many of the Black men whose data he was studying.
“In growing my consulting practice, before I knew it, I actually found myself having worked myself to mental exhaustion, which eventually led to a period of depression,” he said.
Dedner struggled to find a therapist who could address his own unique needs as a Black man before finally meeting Tony Spann, a clinician in the D.C. area who is a Black man himself.
After that, Dender connected with Oliver Sims, an angel investor and fellow University of Arkansas alum who sought Dedner out after following his public health work. The connection led to another breakthrough for Dedner, one that would incorporate business and mindfulness.
“Oliver asked me had I ever considered doing anything in digital health,” Dedner said. “And in that moment, my professional and personal experiences collided.”
Together, Dedner, Sims and Spann founded Henry Health in 2018, which was rebranded as Hurdle last year.
Initially, the company’s services were rendered by therapists trained in evidence-based techniques that took into account the cultural experiences of Black men. Dedner stressed, however, that Hurdle serves a much larger swath of patients today.
“This technique was not specifically designed for Black people,” Dedner said. “Our therapists are trained to support any population, which makes us poised to be the leading culturally intentional provider in the country.”
Dedner said the turmoil of 2020 — from the pandemic to national social unrest — has accelerated customer demand for Hurdle’s services. Currently, the company only treats patients in D.C., Maryland and Virginia due to state licensure requirements, but Dedner is hopeful future policy developments will change that, making it easier for therapists to practice across state lines.
“Our business very transparently was born out of the pandemic and born on the heels of the death of George Floyd and the civil and social unrest,” he said. “99% of our customers have never been to traditional therapy. And I believe that the pandemic has only escalated what was going to happen, and that is the uptake of technology.”
Long-term, Dedner has lofty goals of eventually expanding nationwide and going public. While Black-owned startups have long endured difficulties attracting venture capital interest, he doesn’t see why Hurdle can’t continue to bring in funding and one day hold an IPO.
“I have a fiduciary responsibility to return an investment to my investors,” Dedner said. “I want to solve a big problem, but I want my investors to also be rewarded for having the confidence in me and in the company to try to solve the problem.”