To register interest in joining the programme contact Ciara Eastell

Calling local business owners! University of Exeter Business School offers free support through Peer Networks programme

The University of Exeter Business School is looking to recruit local businesses for the Peer Networks programme, which will see their owners coached in a powerful leadership development method designed to build their resilience and help them adapt to the new economic climate.

The ‘action learning’ sessions will be free, as part of the government’s Peer Networks programme, funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and co-ordinated by Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEP).

The Business School has been commissioned to deliver the Peer Networks programme by the Heart of the South West LEP’s Growth Hub, with the aim of helping SMEs respond to the dual challenges of Brexit and the pandemic.

The free support will be delivered to 8-11 SME owners from across Devon, with support from the renowned business incubator SETsquared providing tailored one-to-one coaching and mentoring support through its network of Entrepreneurs-in-Residence.

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

Joanne Caine, who owns Exeter-based recruitment agency Cathedral Appointments, was in the Business School’s pilot cohort, and found the experience transformed her approach to solving business issues.

She said: “The Peer Networks programme is an alternative and great way to openly discuss business issues with like-minded business owners and identify a range of solutions that you might not have considered yourself. The people on the programme were all highly supportive and we all learnt quickly that sharing and trust is a very powerful thing! I will be using action learning for problem solving or business issues moving forward.”

James Woollam, from the Devon-based publisher David and Charles Ltd, was another member of the cohort, and said the sessions were “expertly facilitated” and extremely useful for developing his business.

“I found the Peer Network and Action Learning sessions incredibly valuable and relevant to my business,” he said.

“We had a group that was very supportive and I felt completely at ease sharing some of our business challenges throughout the sessions. The programme was expertly facilitated, with clear actions and follow-ups from each session.

“I learned a lot, met some great people and came away with some new ideas to take our business forward. I found the meetings with the entrepreneur-in-residence very valuable and a great complement to the Peer Network sessions.”

The sessions will be delivered by experienced facilitators Ciara Eastell OBE, Sarah Bailey and Michelle Mahdon. Ciara 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.

Sarah is a Lecturer in Management and Leadership and has a background in supporting social enterprises and teaching on the Business School’s MBA programme. Michelle is a Research Fellow in Management and Leadership and Chartered Psychologist experienced in working with businesses across different sectors.

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 3 days of action learning sessions.

The recruitment process is now underway, with the programme due to run in the autumn. Participants will take part in three days of action learning via Zoom, one each month. The sessions are informal, accessible and focused on the needs of participants.

Ciara Eastell said: “The Business School is delighted to be working with the LEP and Growth Hub, 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. Our pilot earlier this year demonstrated the power of action learning and peer support to help business owners deal with both the challenges and opportunities they face at this time.”

Joe Pearce, Head of Business Support for SETsquared Exeter, said: “The combination of the leadership and management experience provided by Ciara, Michelle 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.

To register interest in joining the programme contact Ciara Eastell at The first action learning set will be held on 7 October with a further two sessions taking place on 11 November and 2 December. Participants must be able to commit to all three dates.  The sessions run from 9.30 – 16.00 on Zoom.

Date: 28 June 2021

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