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Business School

The Business School-led initiative is designed to create a stronger, more resilient economy

Business owners in South West offered free support through Peer Networks programme

The University of Exeter Business School is to offer ‘action learning’ sessions for local business owners, to help SMEs respond to COVID-19 and Brexit by building their resilience and ability to adapt to the ‘new normal’, while positioning themselves for future success.

Business owners will benefit from this powerful leadership development method as part of the government’s Peer Networks programme, funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and co-ordinated by The Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

The University of Exeter Business School has been commissioned by the Heart of the South West LEP to deliver the sessions to a cohort of 8-11 SME owners from across the South West, with support from Exeter Science Park and the renowned business incubator SETsquared providing tailored one-to-one support (coaching, mentoring and advice).

Active involvement in the Peer Network will enhance the leadership capabilities, knowledge and confidence of business owners and entrepreneurs within a local region as well as help build local connectivity and strength within the SME business community.

The sessions will be delivered by experienced facilitators Ciara Eastell OBE and Dr Sarah Bailey. Professor Eastell is a Professor of Practice within the Business School, the former CEO of social enterprise Libraries Unlimited and a business owner in her own right.

Dr Bailey is a Senior Lecturer in Management and Leadership and has a background in supporting social enterprises and teaching on the Business School’s MBA programme.

Essential criteria for those looking to take part are for businesses to have been in operation for more than a year, with at least five employees, an aspiration to improve and a turnover of at least £100,000 and to be able to commit to fortnightly action learning sessions.

The recruitment process is now underway, with the programme due to run from November to March 2021. If successful, the programme will be repeated with a larger cohort.

Professor Eastell said: “The Business School is delighted to be working with the LEP and Growth Hub, Exeter Science Park and our colleagues at SETsquared on this initiative. 

“We see it as an important contribution to the regional strategies and our work to ensure the Business School plays its part in supporting businesses across our region. We’re looking forward to working with SME owners from across the region using action learning to provide the peer support that’s needed to grow local businesses.”

Karl Tucker, Chair of the Heart of the South West Growth Hub said: “Our Growth Hub has seen a three-fold increase in enquiries since the start of the first lockdown and continues to provide excellent support and advice to help businesses mitigate and adapt to the effects of the pandemic.

“Now more than ever we need to work together – and it’s businesses themselves who are the experts in what works and what doesn’t – so I welcome this new peer-to-peer network where people can share their experiences, best practice and lessons learnt; to create a stronger, more resilient economy.”

Joe Pearce, Head of Business Support for SETsquared Exeter, said: “The combination of the leadership and management experience provided by Ciara and Sarah from the Business School, coupled with the mentoring and advice that the SETsquared Entrepreneurs in Residence bring, creates a fantastically powerful support team for the businesses lucky enough be selected to join the Peer Network cohort.

“I’m sure it will have a great impact on the resilience and performance of the participants and hope it leads to more similar support being made available to regional SMEs.”

Dr Sally Basker, CEO of Exeter Science Park, added: “We help innovative STEM companies to deliver extraordinary growth. We are delighted to be supporting this initiative that will help boost economic growth as well as fuel local recovery and jobs in our region.”

To register interest in joining the programme contact Ciara Eastell at The first action learning set will be held on 25 November with further sessions taking place every fortnight.

Date: 9 November 2020