Startup of the Week

ShockTalk's telebehavioral app helps Natives fight historical trauma

Every week, the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute elects a Startup of the Week (SOTW). We then invite the founders of these startups to share a blog post with our community. These posts can be inspirational, educational, or entertaining. Founders can share founding stories, resources, lessons, or any other topic of their choice. 

This blog post was written by Austin Serio (Gallatin '19), Co-founder of ShockTalk.

ShockTalk is a telebehavioral app that seeks to decrease adverse mental health effects in Native American and Alaska Natives (NA/ANs) by focusing on healing unresolved historical and intergenerational trauma. The willful and targeted underfunding of Indian Health Service (IHS) presents a historic problem created by centuries of Settler Colonialism, a dynamic ripe for disruption. ShockTalk challenges the Settler Colonial dynamic through the creation of financially sustainable and culturally appropriate patient-provider relationships with Native therapists trained and experienced in cultural humility.

Per the treaties made by Native nations with the expanding United States, Natives are born with the legal right to healthcare. IHS is the federal agency tasked with providing health services to the NA/AN community. As the federal government continues to not honor its treaty duties, IHS is chronically underfunded at 50% capacity, preventing Natives from accessing the care they’ve been promised in an effective and timely manner. 

IHS is confronted with perpetual understaffing, leading to barriers in providing comprehensive mental health services through their associated facilities such as IHS clinics, Tribally run clinics (638 contracts) and Urban Indian Health Programs (UIHPs). 

Within IHS’s thin budget, UIHPs are only given 1-2% of IHS’s budget, thereby compromising the quality of mental health services available in urban areas. Barriers such as long wait times, high turnover in staff, and quality of culturally tailored services have the capacity to be resolved by ShockTalk. 

We plan to meet people where they’re at, starting with robust Medicaid support. By working through the Medicaid system, whose funding is more resilient and protected than IHS, we are building a different avenue for Native communities to pursue their right to healthcare. Furthermore, working through Medicaid will allow us to circumvent colonial restrictions and offer culturally appropriate care to unrecognized nations and self identified natives. 

The limited scope of IHS programs also reinforces the colonial power dynamics of exclusion by leaving out those who come from unrecognized nations, such as the Chicoran Shakori, for which ShockTalk is named. Many people do not realize there are a diversity of Native nations in the Southeast which remained and resisted east of the Mississippi. Nations such as the Shakori, Pee Dee, Waccamaw, Lumbee, and more “hid out” from Jim Crow and removal on the upper Pee Dee River. These nations have mixed recognition statuses. All are fighting for Federal recognition today. 

ShockTalk seeks to mitigate the rampant exploitation that characterizes the current healthcare system. To all the innovators who think startups aren’t for them, know that startups can bring about revolutionary change in our communities. Your team can develop a non-exploitative business model that serves your team and community with generosity. Startups and business don’t need to be tied to colonial institutions or ways of being. They can be a way to empower our communities with resources when done in a non-exploitative way. You can choose to build a business, and redistribute the wealth to your community and your team in a sustainable way. 

You are the answer you and your community have been waiting for.