A Month of Entrepreneurial Stories

Our Inclusive Entrepreneurship work at the Case Foundation is built upon the core value that we must change the way we all talk about entrepreneurship, expanding who we lift up as success stories and busting myths that hold entrepreneurs back. National Entrepreneurship Month gave us a great opportunity to dive into the subject again and to celebrate entrepreneurs from a wide variety of backgrounds. It also gave us a chance to provide an honest look at some of the challenges of entrepreneurship.

We focus our work in Inclusive Entrepreneurship on challenges across race, place and gender, driven by the stark statistics that show the disparities faced by diverse entrepreneurs. Just looking at venture capital distribution reveals that only 10 percent of venture-backed companies have a female founder and only one percent have an African American founder. And just 75 percent of all venture capital is being distributed to just three states; California, New York and Massachusetts. Talent is everywhere; opportunity is not. And many of these elements are central to the stories that were at the core of our National Entrepreneurship Month blogs.

November 1st was both the first day of National Entrepreneurship Month and National Stress Awareness Day, so we kicked off our series with an examination of the role stamina and support plays in becoming an entrepreneur. We asked our #FacesofFounders entrepreneurs how they manage the stress of launching and running a business. See what they said in Confronting the Dark Side of Entrepreneurship.

On Veteran’s Day, we shined a spotlight on veterans in entrepreneurship and ways to support them. Our friends at Bunker Labs took to #FacesofFounders to share how the organization is working to build an ecosystem to support veteran entrepreneurs. Read what CEO Todd Connor had to say in How Bunker Labs Is Building an Inclusive Ecosystem for Veteran Entrepreneurs.

Then we looked back at the Essence Festival panel our senior vice president, Sheila Herrling, moderated with a group of entrepreneurial changemakers. Herrling shares some of the top takeaways from the informative and action-inspiring conversation in Changing the Face of Entrepreneurship.

Finally, to celebrate Small Business Saturday and #Giving Tuesday we focused on some of the many ways individuals can support entrepreneurs running businesses of all sizes. Not every entrepreneur has the same financial and social resources, and in Keeping Entrepreneurship at the Heart of the American Experience, we highlighted the many ways that individuals can support entrepreneurs in their daily lives and with the purchasing decisions they make.

We hope these stories has given you a chance to learn more about entrepreneurs, their valuable contributions and how you can support them. To learn more and to access a list of resources on these subjects, visit our website, follow our Medium publication #FacesofFounders and subscribe to Breaking Good, the Case Foundation’s weekly newsletter, to see more from us on entrepreneurship, race, place and gender.

There is much more work to be done and while Entrepreneurship Month may be over, we will continue to champion building onramps to entrepreneurship for all with the goal of everyone having an equal chance at unlocking the American Dream. We hope you will join us.

Fearless Focus: Barbara Van Dahlen

In our journey to Be Fearless and champion a fearless approach to tackling social challenges, the Case Foundation will spotlight leading changemakers across sectors that have embraced fearlessness. Our spotlights will provide personal accounts of why these changemakers adopted a fearless approach, how they overcame hurdles, and how taking risks, being bold, and failing forward led to quicker results and deeper impact.

This Fearless Focus is on Barbara Van Dahlen, Ph.D., Founder & President of Give an Hour™, a national nonprofit organization that provides free mental health care to our returning troops, their families, and their communities.  Barbara was recently named to the TIME 100 list for her efforts in creating and leading Give an Hour to help fill a critical need for mental health services for our nation’s military.  Admiral Mike Mullen shared more about Barbara’s fearless work with TIME:

“Through her organization, Give an Hour, she has mobilized thousands of mental-health professionals to volunteer countless hours of counseling for those in need, at a time when there is a critical shortfall in the military and throughout our country.

Barbara has tenaciously attacked the epidemic of posttraumatic stress disorder, helping break through the stigma that prevents many from seeking help. She has also created an opportunity for many who have not served in uniform to make a difference.

Barbara cares for people and is dedicated to making their lives better. She has served thousands nobly and has been an extraordinary example for all of us in her life and her giving.”

I am the president and founder of Give an Hour and a licensed clinical psychologist. I am also the mother of two girls who will inherit the world that I leave behind.

There are many social issues, both local and global, that require our attention. Some appear more urgent than others, but all result in suffering and should, therefore, concern us. In order to successfully address any one of these issues we must be determined, resourceful, and yes, we must be fearless. We must be willing to face rejection of our ideas-not once but repeatedly. We must be able to withstand uncertainty, doubt, and disappointment-for if the tasks were easy, others would have accomplished them long ago.  And we must tolerate the limitations of others and ourselves-for if any of us were perfect, social issues like the ones that burden our communities (poverty, illiteracy, homelessness, hunger) would be rare occurrences indeed.

My father taught me to be fearless. He was a World War II veteran. He served in the Navy in the Pacific. He fought in battles, he was injured, and he never talked about it. But he did talk about honor and integrity and service. He raised four children, for many years by himself. He taught by example, and he never took the easy way out. He followed his principles, and he encouraged his children to follow theirs even if they differed from his. He valued honesty and directness, and he always spoke up when he saw an injustice. I learned how to accept adversity – and how to appreciate my accomplishments – from my dad. I admired his compassion and selflessness, and I learned that if you find your passion and you focus on a mission that is greater than yourself, being fearless sort of comes with the territory.

Two years ago our organization faced a crossroads. No one on staff (other than my vice president, who has been my trusted partner from the beginning) knew about the crisis. We had expected to receive continued funding from a major sponsor, but a decision that had nothing to do with us changed their funding priorities. It was a very uncertain and difficult time. I worried about our staff members, their families, and our mission. Rather than allow our fear to paralyze us, we developed a plan to save our organization and its mission-even if it meant turning over the reins of GAH to another organization. Fortunately, the head of the foundation that had provided our funding, with whom I had a wonderful relationship, championed our cause and secured a chunk of funding to help us during the transition. No one was laid off, and no programs suffered. Within a few months we had several additional funding streams in place, and Give an Hour has continued to expand ever since.

Launching and growing a nonprofit organization in the current climate within our country is very difficult indeed. But it isn’t impossible. Funders want to support good programs. It is important that nonprofits provide a quality “product.” It is critical that we engage in best practices when we can find them-and create them when they don’t exist. If we are successful in accomplishing this, then foundations and corporations will support our critical efforts. In our case our funder was so pleased with what we had accomplished with their generous financial gift that he stepped up to ensure that we had the funding we needed to continue our mission.