Lezli Levene Harvell knew every child deserves dental care and created a practice with her husband to do just that. In addition to health, good food is a personal passion. This summer she organized the first Iconoclast Dinner with celebrity chefs to raise funds for her alma mater, Spelman College. See how she blazed her own trail as an entrepreneur.
Name: Lezli Levene Harvell
Title: Co-Founder, Dental Kidz and President The Dental Kidz Foundation
Location: Newark, NJ
Hometown: Mount Vernon, NY
The gig: I am a certified pediatric dentist providing oral healthcare to healthy, medically compromised and special needs children. My husband and I created The Dental Kidz to dismiss the thought that oral health is excluded from overall health. I’m also a member of the dental advisory board of United Healthcare of New Jersey, along with the board of advisors for Parents magazine. Getting to be a part of my patients’ lives until they are adults and seeing them grow up is so rewarding.
The journey: The summer before my senior year at Spelman College, I shadowed two alumnae who were general dentists that worked primarily with children. They inspired me to attend dental school. Years later, my husband Chris and I created the vision for our practice to ensure that any child could receive dental care. Many lenders questioned why we would want to spend over a million dollars on a practice located in downtown Newark, oppose to a wealthy suburb. We were also told to make our practice smaller, but we knew we wouldn’t be able to accommodate all types of children in a small practice. It was really difficult for us because we did not want to compromise our vision. It took us about a year to raise the capital we needed.
Confessions of a Black woman in medicine: It’s an exciting time to be a Black female doctor. Doc McStuffins is one of the most beloved children’s characters. It’s amazing being a part of the changing mainstream image of what a health care professional looks like.
Her boss tips: Being your own boss requires patience, perseverance, assessing your own skills and surrounding yourself with people that are good at things that you are not. It’s important to know how to delegate responsibility and to ensure your staff has an opportunity to grow professionally. There is also a psychology of being an entrepreneur. You have to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for the highs and the lows such as not having the security of a pay check every two weeks, delayed payments from vendors, processing payroll every two weeks, etc.
Work/life strategy: I’ve essentially always been a working mother and I learned family time is about quality, not quantity. I used to feel guilty when I would leave the house do to something that wasn’t with my family. I realized that the best example I could set for my five daughters was to be a wife and mother who maintains a healthy balance of being devoted to her family, professional success, and herself.
The smartest advice she ever received: You never want to be the smartest person in the room.
Her biggest career accomplishment: The success of our company, Dental Kidz.
Her stress reliever: I carve out 30 minutes to an hour for myself 4-5 times per week to exercise. It helps me to clear my mind and alleviate stress. I’m also a bit of a food geek. I try a new restaurant every Thursday and usually attend major culinary events in the NYC area.
Her superpower: Knowing that I’m not a superwoman and when to delegate responsibility.
Her beauty bag: One gallon of water a day and Neutrogena Healthy Defense SPF 50.
Her power accessory: Bespoke hats.
Her theme song: “Golden” by Jill Scott.