We caught up with Steph Varley, Founder of INC360, who has channelled her passion for championing diversity and inclusion into a community-led start-up aiming to tackle inequality for those aged 8-13 years. Found at the heart of the Tech Map, on the Tech for Good line, INC360 is a company using tech to improve opportunities for young people right across the Leeds City Region.
Tell us a bit about your company, and your role, in your own words.
INC360 is a social enterprise which was founded, and is run, by myself. We’re a service which promotes positive mental health and community for children aged 8-13 years.
We do this through workshops which combine education, imagination and 360 degree videos of local events and places to provide an alternative experience for those who may have missed out due to their personal circumstances. Facilitated in groups to give the attendees the opportunity to engage in discussion and learn from each other, we build confidence and have fun doing it. Our core belief is that everyone has the right to feel included.
What was the inspiration behind setting up INC360?
Starting INC360 was a way for me to provide a solution to an issue that I came across when organising an activity for young people in the area. Wanting to ensure it was accessible to a variety of children, I started to realise the people I really wanted to provide this service to would not be able to attend because they might be in hospital or may not mentally be able to enjoy it. That’s where the idea to record events and activities and take it to them to enjoy in a space they feel safe and comfortable in came from. I didn’t want their situation to define them, and stop them from feeling included in their community.
What do you value most about being based here in Leeds?
There is so much value in being based in Leeds, it’s a thriving city full of opportunities and collaboration. Having personally taken advantage of all there is on offer, including business advice, mentoring, accelerators, webinars, and virtual festivals to name just a few, I know there is always something available if you’re willing to spend time investing in yourself. As a city, I think we are innovative, and truly supportive of entrepreneurs.
We are also moving towards being a more diverse and inclusive place to live and work, something I am personally very passionate about seeing progress. We have one of the highest student populations in the UK, including international students from more than 170 countries. This means new ideas are constantly being sparked, different cultures are coming together to connect, and we’re never short of talented people – which is very exciting!
From your unique perspective, what role will innovation-led businesses have in the growth of the regional economy?
Innovation-led businesses will inevitably grow the economy as we look for better solutions which are more time and cost effective, tackling issues which weren’t widely discussed before the last decade.
I think the next generation of entrepreneurs are forcing businesses and the markets to become; more innovative as we challenge the norm, more collaborative as we move away from the traditional career ladders and recognise the value in having a variety of voices at the table, and more purpose-led as we understand the impact our lifestyles and work have on the environment and the health of ourselves and those around us.
In my opinion, this will highlight the companies that aren’t willing to budge from their outdated structures and ways of managing, and will give way to creativity and passion driving innovation and promoting economic growth.
What’s the biggest challenge you face as a Startup currently?
My biggest challenge, I’m sure like many, was navigating COVID-19.
Piloting the service was pushed back from September 2020 to April 2021, so deciding whether to go ahead and what needed to be done to keep the attendees and facilitators safe was a learning curve. I brought on placement students to support the research phase leading up to the pilot, which was also a challenge. Working full-time alongside running the business, and organising my time to allow me to lead and support my new team remotely, meant I had to put a lot of trust in them to focus on the role and do it justice – which I’m pleased to say they all did.
Now, my biggest hurdle is securing funding for the next phase of the business to enable me to develop the service and of course, trying to keep a good work-business-life balance.
Looking forward, what are your hopes and ambitions as a company over the next 12 months?
Over the next 12 months I’d like INC360 to be accessed by community groups throughout West Yorkshire, and to have a library of workshops to choose from, each having a focus on a different part of wellbeing.
By this time next year, I would also like to be building a youth panel who can support the content creation, giving opportunities and a voice to the young people of Leeds, and right across West Yorkshire.
We need to keep discussions around mental health on the agenda and in the curriculums. I hope INC360 will have a positive impact on the amount of young people needing professional help. On a more personal level, having had a handful of mentors since starting the business, I’d like the opportunity to pay that forward and support others starting out in the workplace or in business.
How do you personally define success?
Success to me is seeing positive change happening and being a part of it.
I strive to give choices to those who may not feel as though they have them, as I believe choice is one of the biggest privileges we can have. INC360 being successful means educating children and young people so they can better prepare themselves for adversity and develop their emotions, helping them to support both themselves and their community.
Having run a pilot and seeing the idea come to life, I felt it was a success seeing children enjoy the experience and become engaged in the content. I hope that continues and those results are replicated time and time again.
I also think success is being able to see the bigger picture and maintaining a balance, whether that’s how you spend your time or how you deal with a situation.
Who, or what, has been the single biggest influence on your working life?
Bad managers. I’ll admit, I’m not the easiest person to manage. I’m stubborn, opinionated and have been known to hold a grudge. However, I (hopefully) balance that out by taking great pride in any job I’m given, by treating everyone around me with the same respect I’m given, and by striving to create value in everything I do.
In the past I’ve had managers who get to a certain level and put their feet up, who don’t support my progression incase it over-shines their own, or who judge me because of my age or gender. It’s forced me to look at my personal values and what I’m committing my time and energy to. In a perhaps controversial way, these low points have influenced my journey to get to where I am today. They gave me an opportunity to fight for something I believed in, and shaped the way I now manage a team and run a business.