Lloyd Valentine is a former suit, having worked overseas in business, finance, operations and law before some serious health problems led him to take off almost three years from work.
Whilst recovering, he started volunteering in the disability sector and was immediately drawn to the people, however he thought that the services could be run in a different way.
Since then he has been starting projects, programs and businesses for marginalised people, with one of his flagship programs – Healthy Change Challenge – offering a fun, empowering and community-integrated health program. In addition, Lloyd has launched Leg Up Village, a web application that links people who can provide a leg up to those that need assistance starting their own business or entering mainstream employment.
- Tell us about your career path and the businesses you have launched.
I started off working in business law and finance. I worked both in Australia and overseas for a number of organisations, including Ernst & Young and Sparke Helmore here in Newcastle. Before I actually got really sick and unwell, I was living in Norway. I lost the plot basically and had to come back to Newcastle for treatment and ended up having three years off work. I spent over 12 months in and out of hospital.
When I started getting better, I started volunteering in the disability sector and straight away loved the people, but didn’t really like the way things were run. So, I started experimenting with a couple of different projects and since then I’ve been setting up a number of projects, programs and businesses for people with disabilities and other marginalised groups.
- What are the characteristics of a good entrepreneur?
I’m not actually a fan of the word entrepreneur. I think in most cases it’s just a fancy term people use when they’re a small business owner.
What we try and do is we have a flat organisational structure with no hierarchy, so all of our staff are given a lot of autonomy and independence. More importantly, they are supported to try new things. That’s our own way of ensuring that we’re continually innovative and creative in what we’re doing. And, importantly, having fun while we’re doing it.
- What does making a positive change in the world mean to you?
I think the NDIS initiative itself, the ideals behind it are fantastic and I think it represents an amazing opportunity to change the way that we engage with marginalised people. I think society at large generally sees marginalised people as a bit of a burden on society, but if you dig deeper and actually engage with them and really get to know them, you will see that we can actually learn a lot from them.
People who think in different ways is a very valuable asset to society, especially in a world where we’re looking at continually being innovative and creative in what we’re doing. The fact that a lot of marginalised people think and act in a different way is a very valuable thing to a number of businesses.
One thing I’ve tried to do is to set up some small business opportunities for people with a disability, because with the right network support around them, we can actually get them set up with little to no capital outlay on their behalf. When someone goes from having no autonomy or independence in their life to suddenly being a small business owner, the transformation is just amazing. Essentially it represents a risk-free arrangement where they’re stepping up in everything they’re doing and they’ve always got the safety net behind them of their disability pension or the NDIS funding if need be.
One gentleman who I assisted in setting up a cleaning business is no longer accessing government support, whatsoever. He’s a taxpayer in his own right and an incredible, valued member of society. There’s some real opportunities there. I guess with all the projects I’ve worked on and set up, such as Healthy Change Challenge, it’s very much about community integration. I think one of the biggest challenges marginalised people face is not so much stigmatisation – I think that’s too harsh a word – I think it’s a lack of engagement and exposure to those people, which is why we do what we do.
For example, with Healthy Change Challenge is in very public and community spaces where anyone can come and get involved in the program and change the dynamics. So, the people in the program are learning to run their own exercise sessions, cooking sessions, and mindfulness and meditation sessions, not only with each other, but also learning to instruct other people.
It’s some really huge inroads and we’re seeing some incredible results in terms of physiological improvements with logical changes and also huge social behavioural changes, which have been recorded by the University of Newcastle in their research of participants.
Another project that I’ve worked on with a really good friend of mine, Thomas Dow, is Challenge Tom. Tom has really severe intellectual and physical disability; he has a neurological disorder. Rather than let that hold him back, Tommy is the biggest charger of anyone that I know. You name something fun and adventurous and he’s up for it.
Challenge Tom is where the community challenges Tom to do all these outrageous things to raise money for worthy causes and charities, with 100% of the money going towards those causes. So far, Tom has raised over $10,000 by doing awesome things like tandem kite surfing, tandem stand up paddle boarding and rope swings. He’s one of the youngest people to have ever jumped out of a plane. He’s outrageous and an absolute legend.
- What’s good about doing business in the Hunter?
The Hunter region is like a big, small town, so everyone knows everyone here in some indirect way. For me, it’s been an amazing network of family, friends, people I’ve run into, or a really supportive community who have been instrumental in launching a number of projects I’ve worked on, including Healthy Change Challenge, Challenge Tom and Leg Up Village. But also, Newcastle – given its population base, given its close proximity to Sydney and also now the expansion of Newcastle Airport – it’s a really good test site to try out new projects and the government has obviously recognised that, with a lot of the trials they’ve run here. In most of the projects that I’ve set up, the plan is to build hubs all around New South Wales, Australia, and eventually overseas.
- Which local businessperson or entrepreneur do you find inspiring?
Actually, I really respect anyone that has a crack, has a real go at running their own business. I really enjoy hearing the reason why people set up their individual projects and why they do what they do. Having said that, there’s been a couple of people that have been instrumental in terms of getting the projects to where they are now.
One of those is Brooke Phillips, who’s a really good friend of mine, my mentor and business advisor from The Business Centre. The way Brooke operates and the way she cares about everyone she works with is really inspiring. And the way she operates as well, is something that I’ve really tried to take onboard and implement in a number of the projects that I’ve taken on. She has such an amazing network of people, both in Newcastle, Hunter, New South Wales, Australia and overseas as well.
Another inspiration to me is a friend from university, Andy Howard, from The Village of Useful. Andy and I, like I said before, went to uni together and we’ve known each other a long time. We’ve travelled together and we’ve always sort of bounced different ideas off each other. He has really unique and innovative way of looking at things which is always important, because I think in any project you do, you always want to try and be ahead of the game. But, also try new things all of the time, otherwise life’s pretty boring just doing the same thing.