In conversation with Sharon Rai – A culture of collaboration

14 October 2020

A “culture of collaboration” is needed to help businesses bounce back, regenerate and rebuild in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an expert who has overseen the growth of dozens of British business success stories.

Sharon Rai, Entrepreneur Development Manager for NatWest, is passionate about building businesses and helping them fulfil their potential.

Having spearheaded the NatWest Entrepreneur Accelerator programme locally, few people in the South East Midlands are better placed to talk about the benefits of businesses working together than Sharon.

A passionate champion of bringing together company leaders for a common goal, she is a big believer in the power of peer-to-peer networking and is urging businesses to sign up for Peer Networks – a new national campaign delivered locally by SEMLEP’s Growth Hub.

Sharon said: “This has been a tough time for many business owners and the answers to your questions don’t always exist within your own four walls. Sometimes you need to talk it through with someone outside your business.

“By connecting with other entrepreneurs, and there’s such a rich variety of industries within the SEMLEP area, you can reach out to people from different sectors and cross-pollinate ideas.

“Businesses know best what businesses need. Peer Networks is part of a campaign to regenerate and revive our economy, as the answers to how we emerge from the issues caused by the pandemic lie within the business community. By creating a culture of collaboration, we can find those answers and begin to put them into practice.”

During her time with the NatWest Entrepreneur Accelerator programme, Sharon has accumulated a wealth of knowledge about what works and, equally importantly, what doesn’t work when it comes to networking.

She added: “Networking works when you have a clear purpose, but you need to build the right relationships. Key opportunities exist for you outside of your business so by connecting with the right people in the right place at the right time, you can tap into that external knowledge bank.

“But if you are only going to a networking event to sell, you won’t do well. Don’t just go there to sell or because you want to be seen – go with a clear purpose.

“I have a saying about networking which I regard as a golden rule for people to follow: ‘If you are telling you are selling, if you’re listening you are learning’.”

Sharon has helped dozens of businesses through the NatWest Entrepreneur Accelerator programme in recent years, with notable successes along the way.

Her support and advice have helped Holy Moly Dips achieve their growth plans and they are now stocked in Waitrose, Tesco and Sainsbury. Arthur Ellis Mental Health Support now employs 30 people and has a non-exec board, while Soccer Assist is flourishing with an ambitious growth strategy in place.

She said: “From start-up to scale-up, there’s always the right way to grow and succeed. I have seen so many companies reap the rewards of high-quality peer-to-peer programmes, creating a network of reliable contacts they can confide in, trust and tap into whenever external advice is needed.

“They put themselves in the right environment and have taken ownership of their journey. By being hungry for opportunities, they have got a lot out of it and have been able to unlock their next level of growth.”

Sign up today

Our Peer Networks programme will be delivered through a series of high-impact group sessions, with each cohort led by a trained facilitator.

The programme includes:

  • Interactive action learning
  • Trained facilitators
  • Small groups
  • Flexible topic selection
  • One-to-one coaching


Register here and a representative of SEMLEP’s Growth Hub will then be in touch to discuss further details about your eligibility, the cohorts and start dates.

Places on the Peer Networks programme are limited so fill in the enquiry form today to guarantee your place in the first set of cohorts.