Navigating Mental Health in an Unequal World

This Sunday, October 10th is World Mental Health Day. This particular year’s theme is “Mental Health in an Unequal World,” enabling us to focus on the issues that perpetuate mental health inequality locally and globally. Between stigma, accessibility to resources, discrimination, and lack of widely available support, mental health is an uphill battle that many struggle to fight on a daily basis.

Since our inception, Kauffman Fellows has put behavioral and mental fitness at the heart of our program and it has been steeped in our values. We look for Fellows who possess emotional intelligence and an openness to different points of view. In particular, we pride ourselves on creating opportunities for truly diverse candidates to enter the industry and make their mark. We bring investors from different walks of life together, in order to learn, grow, and connect with one another in a brave space.

Our hope is that increased levels of empathy for others, a radical sense of self-belief, and the support and inspiration of outstanding peers will take each Kauffman Fellow to a level of confidence where they become the best version of themselves in order to best serve the entrepreneurs they invest in.

In honor of this year’s theme, we’re sharing ways in which Fellows have shown up for themselves and their founders. Whether it’s pushing through harmful self-narratives, finding ways to rise above difficult and unfair biases, or simply developing daily frameworks for self-care — mental health and wellness is a lifelong journey (not a destination).

We believe that the quality of one’s life is measured by the degree of transparency and connectivity, and by the understanding that the upside of vulnerability far outweighs its costs. This network is a rarity, and we’re proud to say these characteristics define the Kauffman Fellows community.

Michael Lints (KF Class 23) on finding confidence in insecurity.

“Am I worth it? Should I even be here? Do you see me as your equal?” In a beautifully vulnerable post, Michael Lints (KF Class 23) says, “I’ve always wondered when I would get that feeling of success. How would I embrace the moment when I have reached my full potential? For years I have been striving for this feeling and have always seen it as the ultimate goal. Recently, I have noticed there is no such thing. There is no ultimate goal for me to achieve or some metaphorical summit where I will find my full potential. Everything is a journey, a process that leads you to the person you feel most comfortable with.”


Chang Xu (KF Class 23) on radical self-belief and finding her calling in life.

On the Kauffman Fellows Podcast, Chang Xu (KF Class 23) speaks to finding and following her calling in life. Chang uses a principle from a childhood game to help her make decisions. “I operate under the principle of warmer, warmer, colder, colder. Every decision about whether I want to choose Project X or Project Y is always about if I feel like I’m alive when I’m doing this. Do I feel like I’m thriving when I’m doing this?”


As a triathlete, long-time entrepreneur, and experienced operator, Janet Bannister (KF Class 24) has learned a thing or two about endurance and mental fortitude.


“How you talk to yourself is very important, whether in athletics or anywhere else in life. How you approach things and your mental attitude makes all the difference,” says Janet Bannister (KF Class 24).

She describes her experience with the KF network as a source of inspiration and growth. “It’s consistent with these themes of surrounding yourself with people from whom you can learn and who inspire you. Not only is it full of smart, hard-working, and accomplished individuals from around the world, but the generosity of spirit that exists within the Kauffman network is fantastic.”

Deena Shakir (KF Class 23) on how 9/11 shaped her career and what investors are overlooking.


An Arab American whose family immigrated from Iraq, Deena Shakir (KF Class 23) was standing in her high school’s gym when she heard the World Trade Center had been attacked. Her home was later vandalized, racial slurs written in chalk on her driveway. “That for me — and I think for an entire generation — really impelled a trajectory that was characterized by a desire to have impact and a desire to build bridges,” she said. “And that really shaped the rest of my life.” Business Insider captured Deena’s personal and professional journey, and how it feeds into her investing thesis advocating for women’s health startups. “The intersectionality of my path and my identity — that’s what makes me a better investor,” says Deena.

Amir Farha (KF Class 22) on letting go of beliefs that no longer serve you and always betting on yourself.


Reflecting on a whirlwind of a year, Amir Farha (KF Class 22) penned a powerful piece in the hopes that it’s helpful for others to hear. “You think that failing is the end of the world and you hold onto that belief because that’s what your parents may have told you as a child (or your teacher, friend, sibling, etc). But in reality, when you do fail (everyone does), you’ll realize that it really doesn’t matter, and it is never as bad as what you think it is. You get back up and do it again. Your ego is a manifestation of all your definitions and beliefs and the sooner you become aware of the false beliefs and let go of them, the sooner you are free from your ego and the happier you will be.”

To learn more about Kauffman Fellows, visit and stream the Kauffman Fellows Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, or

Kauffman Fellows is the world’s premier venture education program with the largest and most connected network of VC investors.