UNC alumnus Nick Black uses an entrepreneurial mindset to help prevent soldier suicide
One of the hardest lessons Nick Black learned through his service in the U.S. Army is that, too often, soldiers are lost to an adversary that doesn’t get nearly enough attention: suicide.
Black, an alumnus of the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, was born into a family of service, grew up around the world and had many life experiences that shaped his views on service. “I saw a lot of bad things at a young age, but saw the good in people as well,” he says. There was no question he would eventually serve, and while in the U.S. Army, he experienced loss firsthand. “It hits home when you lose servicemen, and not to the enemy,” he says.
Those experiences led Black and two fellow servicemen to co-found Stop Soldier Suicide in 2010. They all knew soldiers who had faced daunting challenges and were determined to create a solution. With veterans at a 22 percent higher risk of suicide than their peers who have not served, the organization helps veterans and their families get help with suicide prevention, while providing other resources and support. And although there are numerous resources available to veterans, more than 7,000 veterans compete for those resources at any given time. This can make it difficult for veterans to get the individual support they need, whether it’s mental health resources, financial aid or housing support. Stop Soldier Suicide is working to make the path to getting help easier and faster.
Soon after launching Stop Soldier Suicide, Black enrolled in the business school at UNC-Chapel Hill to expand his business and entrepreneurial skill sets.
“North Carolina is a region that’s primed for new venture creation. Our startup momentum is fueled by the long-standing investment that citizens and private donors have made in the University of North Carolina System and our state’s private universities,” said Judith Cone, vice chancellor for innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development at UNC-Chapel Hill. “One of the keys for making university-born ventures successful is adequate program support and funding, which often begins on individual campuses. In North Carolina, this support has also expanded into a unique funding framework that involves cross-university collaborations and connections between university, state and federal programs.”
“I’m so thankful to the Carolina community. I’ve been asked ‘Why is this school better?’,” he says. “Carolina is better because it’s better people. Being an entrepreneur at UNC – if you don’t know what you are doing, they will listen to you. I’ve talked to hundreds of people at UNC about ideas, and they kept helping me to refine those ideas. What we’re doing at Stop Soldier Suicide takes a galaxy of people to come together, and Carolina has a natural community to do it.”
Through his coursework, he had opportunities to connect with and learn from different faculty and other students within UNC’s innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E) community.
“Once graduates are plugged into UNC’s I&E community, they are always plugged in,” he says. “After leaving UNC’s campus and throughout my deployments with the Army, I was connected to entrepreneurs I could talk to and share ideas with.”
According to Black, he’s driven to be innovative in how he identifies what veterans really need. And he is applying that entrepreneurial mindset to be a catalyst for change in a system that’s not getting the results needed for veterans.
Stop Solider Suicide is the first national, veteran-founded-and-led 501(c)3 nonprofit focused on military suicide prevention. The organization offers a variety of resources, including education/GI Bill retreats, mental health, PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder)and TBI (traumatic brain injury) referrals, alternative therapies (HBOT, art therapy, equine therapy) as well as emergency financial aid and housing assistance.
“It’s the hardest thing in the world. We need to be pragmatic to break down the problem,” he says. “At Stop Soldier Suicide, we have to solve this thing. We’ve got to figure this thing out.”
Current systems in place to assist veterans are not working, andwith more than 45,000 veterans service organizations available, veterans can quickly become confused and overwhelmed when trying to choose which programs will work best for them. Stop Soldier Suicide not only provides access to resources, but it also provides case management and follow-up care for two years.
Although Stop Soldier Suicide has made significant progress in supporting veterans and their families, the organization now seeks to drastically accelerate results at a strategic planning event this December in Washington, D.C.
“With social issues – it’s hard to move the needle. You first have to define what the needle is,” says Black. “Everything to this point for our organization has been building a runway for our work. With our upcoming event in December, I’m very excited that we’ll create and set forth a plan of action to carry us through the next few years.”
The event will bring in innovators from all over the world to think differently about veteran suicide and what can be done.
“We will make it happen. We won’t gain ground unless we take an entrepreneurial approach,” says Black. “In our existence as an organization, we’ve spent five years learning. Building upon that, we work to lead with passion and make decisions off data.”
With headquarters in Raleigh, Stop Soldier Suicide maintains an ongoing relationship with UNC-Chapel Hill by actively recruiting volunteers from the UNC School of Social Work. For student entrepreneurs looking to further their idea, Black advises them to spend time doing research and customer discovery.
“No one cares about your idea. First, do customer discovery to make sure it’s needed,” he says. “I’ve learned this lesson and failed going after many ideas. Any entrepreneurs should first do customer discovery and keep refining their idea or product.”
Stop Soldier Suicide is making a significant impact in the veteran community – it serves more than 300 military and veterans annually, offering access to more than 3,000 resources and partner organizations to ensure veterans get the help they deserve.
And Nick is candid about the future of the organization. “The greatest day ever will be when the organization shuts down,” he says.“As an organization, we don’t want to be around anymore. It would be good to go out of business.”