At the Harvard Innovation Labs, we are always striving for greater representation in our communities. In June, we invited LGBTQ+ founders in our ecosystem to talk with us about what they are building with their ventures and their approach to leadership. Given the very real challenges LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs still face, we also asked these founders to share their views on the barriers and opportunities ahead. This month (and beyond), we will share their stories as part of our commitment to increasing visibility into our diverse community of Harvard student and alumni entrepreneurs. Need more inspiration? Check out the Map of Inclusive Symbols and Spaces at Harvard.
Meet Natalia Moreno Hendrickson
I am Co-Founder and Chief of Product at Docosan, a health tech startup dedicated to improving access to healthcare in Vietnam and beyond. My family is from Mexico. My grandparents had 12 kids, and they came to the U.S. with no education or career background. Eleven ended up getting degrees in the U.S., and I was the first in my family to go to an Ivy League school. I was also raised by a single mother who passed away from cancer during my freshman year. I felt so out of place when I arrived on campus, I wondered if it was possible to succeed given my circumstances. But I am this identity and these identities, and if I can do it, you can, too. I want to represent the underrepresented. We are both a product of our multiple identities and so much more than our circumstances.
Still, some identities are easier to hide than others. So often people feel they must hide part of themselves. And sometimes, if this identity is revealed, there are very real consequences. That’s something I understand. I can’t hide that I’m Latina, but I’ve been hiding the LGBTQ+ piece for so long.
What are the barriers & opportunities for LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs?
The best way to serve a customer’s needs is to understand the customer deeply. Having diverse perspectives within an organization, especially in leadership, means reaching a wider, more diverse base of customers in more creative ways. Plus, there is immense power in representation. As an entrepreneur, support in the form of resources, networks, and opportunities is crucial–and these are things I have been grateful to have as a Harvard alum–but representation is just as important!
Problems Docosan is solving
When we started, we wanted to change the way people access healthcare. We wanted to make it easier and solve a lot of the problems people are experiencing in Vietnam. As we grew, we found that a lot of the areas that people were most drawn to and utilized most often were those most stigmatized: mental health, sexual and reproductive health, LGBTQ+-friendly care (e.g. clinics that are LGBTQ+ friendly, gender affirmation surgery, safe HRT, therapists with experience in LGBTQ+ issues,, and so on). We’re also digitizing the HIV/AIDS treatment guidelines free for doctors across Vietnam. Many of the people who use Docosan are looking for stigma-free care.
I’ve always been interested in mental health, I have a degree in Psychology, and I was always interested in becoming a practitioner… I didn’t expect entrepreneurship to lend itself to helping our community here in the way it has. We do this work because we care. A lot of our clinic partners are small organizations with one or two doctors. We want to make it easy for them to market themselves, do scheduling, and manage their business.
Read more about Docosan in TechCrunch and in our story, “Women-Led Wednesdays: Building New Entrepreneurial Futures.”
Meet Yaxuan Liu
I’m a founding member at Archslate and the co-founder of Design Yard Sale. When I came to Harvard, I was excited to meet other students and find a vibrant queer student community, but academically it was a different experience. I felt isolated professionally as a gay person because I felt like expressing my queerness was not deemed as professional. Although I’m lucky to live in a city where queerness is celebrated, I tend to hide my sexuality when I meet people professionally because of subconsciously worrying about spoiling a relation or receiving adverse comments.
I believe deeply in the power of architecture and design to shape a better and more just built environment. In my experience, queerness is not a widely accepted parameter for design, especially for buildings, but it is so crucial and helpful to creating an inclusive and friendly product because being queer is not just being LGBTQIA+ but being other than the mainstream.
What are the barriers & opportunities for LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs?
Many members of the queer community still suffer career setbacks because of who they are. I feel fortunate to have access to all of the resources and opportunities at Harvard, so I would say the barrier I experience is more of a psychological one: I constantly question if I can be myself and be professional, or if my perspective is valid and I deserve to be here. I contribute this to the lack of representation of the queer community in leadership in the business world, which still represented by an overtly toxic masculinity. On the bright side, we queers have more fun! All jokes aside, I truly believe that the queer community is extremely creative and resilient because we are able to make light of whatever dire situation the society throw us in.
Problems Archslate is solving
Archslate is a talent marketplace incubated at the Harvard i-lab in 2020, specifically tailored for architecture and design. We started Archslate when we saw underrepresentation of marginalized communities in architecture through our personal experiences. The field is statistically one of the least diverse industries in the States. As a response, we decided to work on the downstream of the education-career pipeline in architecture.
Our mission is to help both the employers and candidates find their best match and create a better, more inclusive, and more diverse workplace. To do so, we have created a bespoke one-stop shop for architecture hiring where employers can post jobs, browse candidates, schedule interviews with applicants, make an offer, and more all on one platform. But Archslate is more than just a hiring site; we strive to create a beautiful and diverse online platform for the architecture community that showcases both talented designers and companies.
Design Yard Sale was a month-long fundraiser for racial justice we created during the summer of 2020. As four out of five of the team members are part of the LGBTQIA+ community, we—especially as minorities—felt the urgent need to stand alongside the Black community. We wanted to use our creativity and skills to support these community leaders in projecting their voices and leading the profession and society towards a better, more equitable future. We are not activists or politicians, but as minority designers and students ourselves, we wanted to contribute to the movement in whatever small way we can. So we created this online platform to sell and auction our and our friends’ design work. In the end, we raised more than $125,000 in a month for two racial justice organizations.