Meet Isla Kapasi: An entrepreneurial expert helping small business leaders

Isla Kapasi has first-hand experience of running a successful business and now helps other small business leaders as part of the Peer Networks programme run by the Business School.

Isla joined Leeds University Business School in 2016 as part of the Centre for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Studies. Having originally studied fine art, Isla realised that she had to figure out quickly how to make a living, which mean learning to run a business in an industry that relied heavily on self-employed entrepreneurs.

Isla went onto complete a business masters and then a PhD in home-based businesses and entrepreneurship. She is now a lead facilitator on our Peer Networks programme and still works as a business mentor for Business Mentoring Scotland, the Chamber of Commerce and other private and public sector organisations.

Can you tell us about Peer Networks?

Peer Networks is an incredible opportunity for anybody running a small business. It’s a safe space for local business leaders from all backgrounds and industries to share their challenges and work through these issues in a collaborative way. 

What does your role as a lead facilitator involve?

As a lead facilitator of the programme it’s my role to ensure that people get maximum value from the programme. I work with a small group for 6 weeks and my role is to help ask those relevant yet challenging questions that open up discussion and help people to articulate their problems. I can also encourage dialogue and construct themes that allow me to bring in different aspects of our research and help give people tools and techniques to support them.

What feedback have you received from participants? Are there any ‘lightbulb’ moments?

As a business owner it can seem impossible to take time out of your day to think strategically, share ideas and talk about your challenges – you’re always too busy on the next task. Having that time during this programme is a real gift for them.

The key moment is when they realise they are not alone. Running your own business can be extremely isolating. Especially during the pandemic where I’ve met business leaders who were at breaking point and they came through this programme more resilient and more self-confident to deal with challenges. And that is because of the authentic relationships they’ve built and the value of the conversations they had with peers.

What makes you a good lead facilitator?

I have been in their shoes. I can empathise and I have genuine experience of many of the challenges these people are facing. There can be scepticism amongst the business community of academia but because I’ve had my own successful business I have genuine credibility and it definitely helps me build rapport with the participants.

Industry people need academic knowledge to be communicated in a way that resonates with them. Peer Networks are that essential bridge between academia and implementing real life recommendations and changes in your businesses. To see this come to fruition is incredible.

Why do you think it’s important for local industry to connect with business schools?

Business Schools can create space for lots of different businesses to work together and collaborate. So much complex information is being constantly being thrown at small businesses and being able to discuss these issues with peers to help you prioritise and cut through the noise is really important.

This is a difficult time for small business owners, do you have any advice?

Running a business is all about unforeseen challenges. Everybody experiences them, but in a small business sometimes they can feel a little more overwhelming.  Remember it’s okay when you have a bad day, or you’re feeling unsure. Being resilient and being able to problem solve is part of the job.

People often start their own enterprise because they are passionate about selling a service or product. But I always say that you also need to find a passion for the nuts and bolts of running a business. Embrace the challenges and remember that they are part of the process of building a successful business.

You can connect with Isla on Linkedin or read more about her work at the Business School.

Peer Networks is a fully funded programme specifically designed to enable small business owners to grow their businesses. It is available to businesses that have operated for at least one year, have at least five employees and have an aspiration to grow.

Find out more about the 2021-22 programme.

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