On a mission to help launch 1 million Black-owned businesses by 2030, a nonprofit is helping young entrepreneurs like Simone Harvin get ahead. Here’s her story.
“Your business can’t grow faster than you do.” The facilitator’s words resonated with Simone Harvin, founder and lead digital strategist of SC Creative Group. Like many first-time entrepreneurs, Harvin had been struggling with fear guiding her decision making—and stifling her personal and professional development. But when Harvin joined Operation HOPE’s Adult Empowerment Program, everything changed. In weeks, thanks to these and other wise words from mentors at the Atlanta nonprofit, Harvin moved from a scarcity mindset to a boss mentality and restructured her business for success.
Following opportunity to the big city
“I am a Southern girl, and I love the South,” Harvin says when asked what led her to launch a business in Atlanta. She’s unsure of the reason, but life in the city has been a dream of hers for quite some time. Just like entrepreneurship, she adds, it’s always been part of her DNA.
She describes spending childhood summers with her aunt, creating frozen treats to peddle to local kids. “I’ve always wanted to work,” she says. “I would walk down to the store with whatever money I had and buy cups and Kool-Aid to make ‘icy cups’ for the neighborhood.”
After studying business and fashion merchandising at the University of South Carolina, Harvin felt compelled to bring her entrepreneurial spirit to the big city. It would turn out to be one of the best decisions she ever made.
“Moving to Atlanta, I got to see all the ways in which I could show up in the world,” says Harvin, who earned a bachelor’s degree in fashion marketing and management at the Savannah College of Art and Design, Atlanta. Through internships and work experiences, Harvin gained insights into branding agencies and public relations firms in industries ranging from fashion to automotive.
“Whether it was public relations or in the entertainment space, all of it was right in front of me. People that look like me, doing it at all levels, creating their own paths.”
Putting her “self” last
In 2013, Harvin launched SC Creative Group, which is dedicated to helping small businesses strengthen their online presence through web design and social media. “I knew I had these skill sets, and I wanted to help people,” she says. “I wanted to help small businesses and creative entrepreneurs figure out this digital stuff.”
But after co-founding a second consulting agency and accepting a full-time job, Harvin’s own business began to feel more like a side gig. “I tell people jokingly that [my] company has been up and running for eight years but for the first six years, I treated it as a hobby. I was moonlighting. I didn’t have a pathway,” she says. “I didn’t know how I was going to scale this into a sustainable thing.”
In the summer of 2019, Harvin said her final goodbye to corporate America, but soon her excitement was replaced by fear and a feeling that she was selling herself short—both financially and personally. “If you don’t know who you are, people will define it for you,” she says. “Thinking back to my entire 20s, self-discovery was not even on my radar. And because it was not on my radar, I allowed other people’s opinions, judgments, and critiques to define who I was, and it got to a point where I started to believe them.”
Harvin was unsure of what to do, but she knew she needed help. When she learned about Operation HOPE, she reached for it like a lifeline. “For me, it was the beginning of me choosing myself in a real way,” she says.
Finding hope—and paying it forward
Operation HOPE’s Adult Empowerment Program helps entrepreneurs navigate each step of business development and overcome their unique obstacles. The eight-week training sessions guide participants through a practical curriculum. They learn the ins and outs of small business ownership, including how to develop a business plan and gain access to funding. The program also connects attendees with tools and resources—with a strong undercurrent of empowerment and encouragement. The sessions conclude with each participant showcasing their business plan in a presentation or slide deck.
“Sometimes being an entrepreneur is like driving in fog. You can only maybe see 10 feet ahead of you. And you just have to confidently keep driving forward,” says Harvin. “But with programs like Operation HOPE, that foggy road becomes a lot clearer.”
Interestingly, Truist (then SunTrust) had become Operation HOPE’s first financial partner in 2013, right around when Harvin’s business was taking off. In 2021, the two purpose-driven organizations announced an expanded partnership, including a shared commitment to help launch 1 million Black-owned businesses (like Harvin’s) by 2030.
The care and support provided by these partner organizations have been invaluable for Harvin and other entrepreneurs. She’s gained an abundance of insights that have helped her improve everything from her pricing structure to her communications with clients. She keeps in touch with her fellow cohort members and facilitators, especially a workshop facilitator, who has remained her mentor and confidant. They meet at least once a month, when Harvin stops by to share her experiences with the latest crop of Operation HOPE students.
Staying on the divine path
Reflecting on her journey, Harvin is grateful for the growth in both her business and her sense of self.
“I think self-doubt and lack of confidence played a major role in why I played small for so long. And [the Operation HOPE Program] let me know there are people who are out there who are as intentional and as committed to building sustainable businesses [as I am],” says Harvin. “It was really the personal work that had to happen for the business to start to move. [Now] I can confidently say, ‘I’m going to charge no less than $5,000 for a website;’ I can confidently say, ‘I’ll tell you what you’re going to get for that [investment].”
Despite her success, sometimes Harvin still finds herself wondering if the grass is greener on the corporate side. But at the end of the day, she knows this is her divine path.
“I have pivoted or redirected a lot of times in my life,” she says. “And all of them were stepping-stones to me being able to speak on the things that I can today.”
Interested in more information about the Operation HOPE Program? Learn more about program eligibility and requirements.
Read more about other ways Truist is living on purpose.