Academics from Cranfield School of Management have joined an expert-led network to stimulate business development and growth as part of a new fully-funded scheme launched in the South East Midlands for ambitious business leaders.

With COVID-19 cases surging, businesses have once again found themselves working from makeshift home offices, with employees having to juggle the demands of working life with home-schooling children kept away from the classroom. It all adds up to a tricky time for companies, with senior staff often left feeling isolated and frustrated at being ‘away’ from their business.

Peer Networks is a national peer-to-peer programme managed locally by South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership's (SEMLEP) Growth Hub. The mentoring sessions are being designed and delivered by experts from the world-leading Cranfield School of Management. It brings together diverse cohort groups of individuals from businesses across Bedfordshire, Milton Keynes and Northamptonshire to collaboratively work through common issues and develop an action plan to resolve them.

The first cohorts started earlier this month and initial feedback has revealed the sessions are proving a lifeline for business leaders who would otherwise be stuck at home on their own.

Vicky Hlomuka, Manager of SEMLEP’s Growth Hub, said: “It’s hugely encouraging to see such positivity from our first cohort. These businesses will be going on a journey together and already you can see the benefits of working alongside like-minded business leaders to develop your own ideas which will ultimately benefit both your company and others.

“Working from home is likely to be a reality for many of us for months to come and it can be tough, particularly for those who work best in social environments and thrive on human interaction. Peer Networks allows this to happen despite the restrictions placed on us all by COVID-19.

“By engaging with our Peer Networks programme, businesses can ensure they are ready to emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever, equipped with the knowledge and expertise they need to build and grow.

“Peer Networks enables business leaders to make connections that go far beyond traditional networking, this is about building a trusted network of connections both now and in the future, improving long-term personal and business performance.”

Experienced facilitators from Cranfield School of Management are managing the interactive action learning featured in the Peer Networks programme, giving business leaders the chance to openly discuss their own challenges, gain and reflect on valuable feedback and implement practical solutions to overcome them.

Sabrina Sommer, Director Business Growth Portfolio at the Bettany Centre for Entrepreneurship at Cranfield University said: “This programme offers an opportunity for SMEs to spring into action and address and overcome some of the major challenges they face. The first sessions have got off to a fantastic start and it was good to see such energy and positivity from all those attending, at such an uncertain time for all of us.

“We all need to work together to overcome this unprecedented challenge but it’s hard to do that in isolation. Peer Networks is about telling business owners ‘you’re not alone’ and bringing people together to give them the tools they need to prosper in the post-COVID world.”

The Peer Networks programme is available to any SME business in the South East Midlands that has operated for at least one year and with a turnover of at least £100,000. Ideally, participants should also have the potential to scale up and the ability or potential to export overseas.

A limited number of places on the programme are still available, with businesses urged to sign up as soon as possible to guarantee a place.

Notes for editors


SEMLEP is a public-private partnership set up in 2011 to drive economic growth across the South East Midlands. Steered by a business-led Board, we work to build a stronger economy by tackling barriers to sustainable growth and supporting job creation for the future prosperity of communities across the South East Midlands. We bring together the private sector, education providers and the public sector to steer investment and deliver projects to grow businesses, grow people and grow places. SEMLEP is responsible for Government's local capital investment programmes, the Local Growth Fund and the Getting Building Fund and other public monies to support growth projects. We have invested in a portfolio of over 60 projects that unlock growth potential of the area by increasing jobs, learner numbers, employment floorspace or homes. For more information, contact Claire Danaher, Growth Hub Marketing Lead at SEMLEP by emailing


The 38 Local Enterprise Partnership led Growth Hubs across England bring together and simplify access to national and local business support. Supported by Government, Growth Hubs ensure that no matter the size, sector or maturity of a business they provide locally tailored business support and advice to direct businesses to the most appropriate organisations to assist with their specific requests.