How Victoria Hardy Is Putting Students on the Path to Well-being

As a student at Dillard University, an HBCU in New Orleans, Victoria Hardy decided to pursue a career as a political commentator — but that wasn’t what she wanted to do.

“I realized, as I was going through college, that that was something that I felt like I had to do,” Hardy says. “I started trying to figure out my passions and everything that I wanted to do in life,” which led her to discover an interest in starting a business.

Hardy founded Establish Student, a platform designed to make wellness resources available to support student well-being across all ages and grade levels, with a focus on K-12 students. “We are a digital personal development platform for students, by students,” Hardy says. 

With the platform, students learn all about personal development and how to build and maintain healthy habits. “We’re trying to diversify education, which is what it originally should have been — and not just math, science, reading,” Hardy continues.

As a young founder, managing the obligations of a growing business hasn’t been easy, but Hardy has conquered every challenge in her way. Check out a few of the lessons she’s learned from her entrepreneurial journey.

Build a Team With a Shared Vision

Like most small businesses, for a couple of years, Establish Student was nothing more than a vision in Hardy’s head — but one she was committed to bringing to life. As her first step, Hardy began assembling a team to get her ideas off the ground, and she immediately turned to her classmates and peers at Dillard University.

“I wanted it to be for students, by students, because no one has been a student in a pandemic but students in a pandemic,” Hardy says. Other consulting firms and platforms try to cater to students, but unless they’ve experienced it themselves, they can’t capture what it’s like to be a student post-2020. “We are our target audience,” she continues.

Hardy asked several top-notch students to join her team but admitted upfront that she wasn’t able to pay them. She highlighted non-compensation benefits she could offer instead. “I knew that I had to come with something beneficial to them,” she says. Since no compensation was involved, that motivating factor was Establish Student’s mission and vision.

“We all … in some sense had the same education experience,” Hardy says. “We’re all students, and we all feel like the education system doesn’t prioritize our well-being. We’re treated as scholars before humans.”

Hardy knew her peers wanted to have a sense of purpose and autonomy and for the work they do to make a tangible impact. Hardy took her commitment to her team a step further, though, and paired up each team member with a handpicked mentor as an added benefit of joining her team. “I’m figuring out, ‘How can I cater to this student, personal development-wise or professionally outside of money?’ —  something that’s more valuable than income,” she says.

Make the Most of Every Opportunity

Countless resources are available for growing businesses, and Hardy hasn’t missed the chance to take advantage of every program she can. That’s what led to her entering — and winning — the 2022 BizTech Challenge, an entrepreneurship program and pitch competition for students attending HBCUs in Louisiana.

When preparing for the BizTech Challenge, Hardy “was very strategic,” she says. “Throughout the process, I was very determined to make sure that I was doing everything that I could,” she adds. Long before pitch day, Hardy made an effort to get to know the judges and successfully demonstrate her passion for bringing Establish Student to life.

During the preparation process, Nexus Louisiana paired Hardy and her team with a business consultant who suggested she develop her presentation with the judging rubric criteria in mind. “I created my pitch in the order of the judging rubric to make it easy for the judges to check it off,” Hardy says. 

Hardy made the most of her limited pitch time on the day of the competition, too. While her competitors began their presentations by introducing themselves and their teams, Hardy started with a powerful statistic that illustrated the problem Establish Student solves. And that tactic paid off: The judges told her afterward that when she walked on stage, she demanded the room’s attention.

During her presentation, Hardy provided handouts to the judges illustrating Establish Student’s unique value proposition as well as a written commitment from the New Orleans school superintendent to implement the product in the parish’s public schools. 

Hardy’s team members aren’t stopping with one success, though: they continue to take advantage of as many benefits available to student founders as they can before they begin to graduate. “Anything that says ‘students’ or ‘HBCU students,’ my team applies for,” Hardy says.

Deliver Targeted Content and Experiences

One of the secrets to Hardy’s success is how targeted her product is for the people who need it most. “Our unique value proposition is that our target audience, customer and user is building this with us,” she says. The New Orleans school board, superintendent, teachers and staff contribute to the research by sharing feedback with the team in real time. 

Hardy makes sure both the customer (the school board) and the users (teachers and students) will benefit from the product. Her team has a direct line of communication with the school superintendent, who let’s the team know the school board’s budget, what they can do now for student well-being and where they need additional support. 

“We’re bringing it all together right now, in 2023, and making sure that before we go and build this platform to build a backend and a frontend app and work with the app development company, it needs to be what our target audience wants,” Hardy says.

Tailoring her message for her audience helped Hardy win the BizTech Challenge, too. Hardy knew the judges were already approaching the competition with the intention of supporting students (the competitors), so she leaned into that: “[They’re] here investing in students; [they’re] here helping them with their projects,” she says, recalling that during her pitch, she asked the judges to “take it a step further and prioritize their well-being.”

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