Navigating Systemic Challenges in the Startup Ecosystem with Chris Young

4 min read
startup ecosystem

Chris Young’s journey in the startup ecosytem began when he first launched his startup Like YOU! just two weeks after being released from prison. 

In the next year and a half, he raised nearly $150,000 to support his social justice-oriented mission: increasing mental health resources for people in prison. 

Through Like YOU!, which he started in early 2021, Young aims to partner with state prisons, juvenile facilities and county jails. The startup is designed to connect incarcerated people with culturally relatable cognitive behavior therapy via smart tablets already available in most of these facilities. 

Young will be among the speakers at this year’s fnSummit 2022, Founders Network’s annual fall conference. The event connects founders, investors, and partners in the startup ecosystem. In a fireside chat, Young will share his unique story and how he navigates the startup world as a Black man and formerly incarcerated person.

Here’s a peek of his startup journey. 

An Uphill Battle

During Young’s sentencing hearing for low-level drug crimes in 2014, he delivered a powerful speech – articulating his knowledge of subjects from American history to economics – to convey to the judge that he had what it takes to succeed. He hadn’t been afforded the same opportunities as the other people in the room. But, if given the chance to be released, he had the aptitude and the curiosity to pursue his aspirations. 

The judge at the hearing was so impressed that he resigned in protest of the mandatory sentencing laws that required him to give Young a long sentence. The judge’s resignation led to national attention and eventually Young’s release in January 2021. 

“You have to be willing to ask questions. You have to be able to learn, to absorb the information so you can then turn around and apply it,” Young says. “That is one of the main things I did the whole decade I was incarcerated. That is what led to the judge being so impressed at my sentencing speech.”

A Personal Mission

The inspiration behind Young’s startup Like YOU! is deeply personal. Two years before he was arrested and incarcerated, his brother died by suicide at the age of 20. The brother had served as Young’s surrogate parent. Young spent his decade in prison regretting that he hadn’t been able to intervene to help his brother. 

“I kept thinking about the intersection between mental health and technology,” Young says. “And I kept thinking, how could I have helped my brother and how can I help others?”

He focued his passion for mental health on his own environment, where resources were extremely limited. There were only three mental health professionals for 1,500 people in the prison. 

“So if somebody ever needed to talk to them, you can imagine, they didn’t have the time,” he says. 

That’s not uncommon. In fact, the shortage of mental health professionals in U.S. prisons is so dire, the national average is one therapist per 200 incarcerated people. 

Fundraising Challenges

Young’s startup is designed to reduce recidivism and provide incarcerated people with the tools and education to perceive the world differently. Many tech founders in the startup ecosystem who have attended elite schools often graduate with financially powerful networks that can be tapped during rounds of startup fundraising. However, Young has had to find creative ways to raise the funds to make his dream a reality. 

“A lot of those founders, their family and friends round can easily reach $300,000 to $500,000. That is not normal amongst most families of color,” Young says. “Most of us don’t have the network that other founders have.”

So, for Young, bootstrapping and finding creative ways to save money are critical. For example, he’s struggled to hire, as it’s difficult to pay early employees salaries. Instead, Young is using vested equity to compensate his two full time employees.

fnSummit 2022 encapsulates the Founders Network experience, giving startup founders the opportunity to learn from other tech founders in the startup ecosystem, build deep relationships with investors, and uncover solutions to the challenges they’re facing. The annual event provides the perfect setting for off the record discussion, reflection, and networking.

Learn more about Founders Network see if you qualify for membership

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