Yulkendy Valdez is a Forbes 30 Under 30 social entrepreneur, storyteller, and TEDx speaker. As the Co-Founder and CEO of Forefront, she consults and trains leading organizations on designing inclusive and equitable communities. In 2020, she also launched a technology platform, Carmen AI, which provides students of color on-demand career support for free via text messaging.
Yulkendy brings a diverse set of both corporate and nonprofit experiences to the table. She’s worked with Bank of America, EY, Puma, and Innosight Consulting as well as the International Institute of St. Louis and Betty Jean Kerr People’s Centers. Yulkendy has received numerous fellowships, including the Resolution Project, Young People For, Opportunity Nation Leaders Program, Future Founders Fellowship, Net Impact Racial Equity Fellowship, Harvard Kennedy School Public Policy Leadership Conference, One Young World, StartingBloc, and PPIA Indiana University. She is a proud alumna of Babson College, #1 school for entrepreneurship. She was named one of the Latino 30 Under 30 honorees by El Mundo Boston and a top millennial in Boston by Get Konnected. With roots in her hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, Yulkendy has traveled to over 35+ countries for work and fun.
Q: What's your background, and what are you working on?
My grandma told me once that I am a patchwork of cultures and places, but never forget who I am at the core. I am Afro-Latina, born in the Dominican Republic, and I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. Since college, I now call the Northeast my home from Boston to NYC and now Jersey City. My work is devoted to helping design a world in which those like me (and unlike me) can feel included, dignified, and celebrated.
I co-founded a company in college, Forefront, and we have been full-time for four years. We are a training and consulting firm working with corporations, city agencies, and nonprofits to help them create more inclusive and equitable communities. We also have a tech platform called Carmen AI that provides 24/7 career support for free to students of color via text messaging.
Q: What motivated you to get started with Forefront?
In 2016, I was a summer analyst at a top innovation consulting firm. I was the only Black woman there and also the only Latina. Many of the consultants were from Ivy League Institutions. Although I love the work, I didn't feel like I belong in this environment.
On July 5th of that summer, as I was getting ready for work, I heard about the murder of Alton Sterling out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana - another Black man killed at the hands of the police. By the time I got to the office, I couldn't stop my tears, and there was no one I can speak to about this.
At that moment, I realized workplace cultures needed to change now. I didn't want my younger brothers to feel like this at their first job.
Q: How have you attracted clients and grown your firm?
The art of sales is bold and strategic but also confusing and awkward. I used to hate the idea of "selling something," but now I love it. When you lead with authenticity, humility, and a little bit of chutzpah, you attract business at the end of the day. Whenever I tried to be something I am not, whether it is more "polished" or "crisp," I didn't attract much business.
These days, I spend a lot of time cultivating my brand and collaborating with other organizations on valuable research and thought pieces. Every story is worth telling. My #1 advice to attract business is to tell your own unique story.
Q: What are your goals for the future?
I will continue to do my part to create a world where everyone feels seen, heard, and valued. I want to see more representation of people of color in senior leadership positions across the public and private sectors.
I want to build more companies. I am also interested in politics. I also wish to do more creative projects such as a book and other media projects.
Your "first baby," your first company, is always going to be close to your heart, but you can't let it define who you are.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you've faced and obstacles you've overcome?
As a woman of color in business and tech, I had to be scrappy and resourceful to overcome limited funding and network gaps.
I also had to protect a lot of my mental wellbeing in an industry filled with good intentions, bad actions. Sometimes I didn't see the impact that I wanted to create at the end of the day, but my community of founders, mentors, sponsors, and investors made me resilient. It is how I was able to power through many of these challenges.
Q: What's your advice for female founders who are just starting out?
Invest in relationships. If you are an introvert like me, this can be exhausting, but find a medium that works for you whether is Zoom, coffee chats, phone calls, events, etc.
Experiment. Pilot. Test. Sell. Adapt. You don't need all the answers on Day 1.