Q&A with Jen Hyatt, Founder and CEO of Big White Wall

Launched in 2007, Big White Wall (BWW) offers individuals experiencing emotional or psychological distress a safe, anonymous online space to seek support. The service is professionally staffed, and also offers creative outlets, assessments and other resources to its members, including veterans and NHS service users. BWW became an IVUK investee in October 2014.

How do you define social enterprise?

I always define it as the “itch to act.” A social entrepreneur sees something-an injustice, a problem-and gets the urge to do something about it. I got this “itch” pretty early in life, turned out to be a serial social entrepreneur, and set up or helped found over thirty social organisations in over twenty countries. Big White Wall is the culmination of that experience. In social enterprise, you put your principles at the core of what you do, and you build the business around always, always serving that end. In the case of Big White Wall, I saw the problem-the huge human and economic cost of mental illness, the lack of treatment-and I suddenly felt that old, familiar urge to change the world. Social enterprise is one of the best ways to do that as it marries the engine of business, its speed and urgency, with the goals of helping solve the world’s pressing problems.

How did you first make contact with Impact Ventures UK?

We met them when they were doing due diligence on another social impact company that we know well. We had a conversation with IVUK about Big White Wall, about its aims, where we were at that moment, and it just clicked. I could tell from the start that they were as committed to Big White Wall’s central, social purpose as our own team.

What have you learned or how have you benefitted from working with the fund thus far?

We have benefitted hugely-not only from the investment itself, which is supporting the rapid scaling of BWW and its success in new markets, but from the expertise of the investment team. They bring not only fantastic business experience, but a deep and abiding commitment to the purpose of BWW. They invested their money in the business, but they also invested their passion in its purpose, cause and results. They bring fantastic new perspectives to the table, and I have no doubt that their support will help drive Big White Wall’s success.

How would you describe IVUK to those interested in applying for funding?

IVUK is possibly the best social investor you could hope to meet. It’s occasionally suggested that social purpose and business success make uneasy bedfellows, but with IVUK you won’t have to compromise on either your business aims or your core social goals-but be prepared to work on doing both better!

What advice do you have for social enterprises seeking funding from IVUK?

Make sure you’re ready! I’ve often likened the progress of Big White Wall to a rocket ship or a roller coaster-you have to be willing to strap yourself in and prepare for a ride. But if you’re already committed to that process of seeing your business grow and thrive, even in turbulent times, you will find IVUK fantastic partners in that journey. They made the process of seeking investment much more like a meeting of minds. I couldn’t recommend them more highly as partners.

Profile

  • Impact Sector: Health
  • Founded: 2007
  • Interim CEO: Tina Trenkler
  • Number of employees: 21
  • IVUK Funding: £1 million
  • Funding Date: August 2014
Big White Wall
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