Business management

Black History Month: #TimeForChange with SVH Inc CEO Valentina Hynes

Valentina Hynes, founded her community interest company SVH Inc to improve workplace well-being and mental health awareness.

Tell us about your business

“Our mission is to foster well-being, mental health and happiness at work through keynote-speaking engagements, mental health training, and away-day experiences. We draw inspiration from lived experiences, culture and the society at large to ensure strong, vibrant, happy and inclusive communities in the workplace, at home and in society at large. We help organisations and communities deliver six of the 2030 [Agenda for Sustainable Development’s] sustainable development goals.”

Why was starting a business important to you?

“In 2017, my life changed when my husband suffered a heart attack brought on by work-related stress and the anxiety of working in a toxic environment. The trauma of this led to us relocating and leaving a continent – our whole lives changed completely. I started to look into mental health, well-being and culture in the workplace and realised there was an opportunity for a more holistic and preventative approach. That inspired us to set up the business. In 2021 we transitioned into a community interest company (CIC) to have more impact.”

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve encountered and how did you overcome it?

“There are a lot of huge obstacles. The first was setting up our business in January 2019, just before Covid-19. By March it looked like the whole business was going to die because we set it up based on mainly face-to-face events.

“At that time I became [part of] a cohort on the NatWest Accelerator programme [for scale-up businesses] and learned from them. I started to experiment with Zoom: we did a lot of free events and started to get stakeholder participation by collaborating with other businesses and service providers. Our holistic face-to-face events rely so much on the senses, so the challenge then was how to replicate these virtually. By experimenting, we learned how to pivot and finally got the right balance.”

“The other challenge for me, as the face of the business and the CEO, is something I haven't overcome. That’s the colour of my skin. Being Black and having an accent is a stumbling block. I find I’m having to work 10 times harder than my competitors.

Black History Month is a celebration of strength, creativity, vibrance and tenacity. It’s a reminder to be brave, to be compassionate and to be original

Valentina Hynes
Founder and CEO, SVH Inc

“I put content out there and then get someone with the right skin colour and accent to go knocking on doors. The challenge is to keep those doors open, and for people to sign contracts rather than expecting something free from me. Because of that challenge, I think I started to aim a bit lower and not dream as big as I used to. I reach for low-hanging fruits instead of the bigger stuff.”

Can you pinpoint a positive change you’ve made?

“Black people who make it are so few and far between, they don’t often have time to reach out to others. But we have a new crop of people out there, and I have connected with some very important people of colour, who are in top positions and are reaching back and trying to help. Lara Oyedele is on our board and she’s invested in getting more Black people, especially women, on the boards of organisations.

“That’s the importance of mentors – you can’t really connect with a person if they don’t understand your struggles. If we get more people of colour as mentors, they have the platform to reach out and connect with others. The journey of entrepreneurship is not a straight road – there are lots of twists and turns, but let’s not make it into a maze where you get lost.”

What’s the importance of Black History Month for you?

“Black History Month is a celebration of strength, creativity, vibrance and tenacity. It’s a reminder to keep going, to speak up. It’s a reminder that truth is subjective – one thing could be a fact but the truth means different things to each of us. And that’s our truth. It’s a reminder to be brave, to be compassionate and to be original.”

What’s your top tip for other entrepreneurs?

“Keep learning. You have to network. And you must constantly evaluate your network. Sometimes you’ll outgrow your network, but moving on doesn't mean letting go of the old one. Don’t be afraid to do. Learn by doing – waiting to get something perfectly right is never going to happen.”

To celebrate Black History Month, we are hosting a special celebration of Black culture and heritage on Friday October 28. Find out more and grow your own network here:

Black History Month event

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