Fail better

An introduction of the LIFE project, which is a partner of, in an effort to better understand 'failure' in the context of European entrepreneurship - and a call for sharing your own stories.
Fail better

Failure. It's a word that often comes up when people inevitably start comparing Europe (or their local startup ecosystems) to Silicon Valley (or 'the US' or Israel or China or ...) yet again.

Europeans (if there is such a thing) have a hard time seeing failure as anything but the opposite of succeeding, it is said. There's no culture of failing and starting right back again. Failure is regarded as the end of a line, rather than a point on the learning curve of life / career. People who aren't entrepreneurial - aka the vast majority of people living in Europe - generally look at failed entrepreneurs with a mixture of schadenfreude and misplaced sympathy. Governments make it difficult for founders to try their hands at building businesses multiple times over without literally bankrupting themselves every time. Failure rarely gets discussed openly.

Etcera, etcetera.

All of these things are true, to a degree, and that they are part of the problem of Europe truly living up to its technological / digital potential is a fact, not a mere opinion.

It's also a massively hard thing to 'fix'. How do you alter a culture? How do you change thinking that's been solidified over decades - if not centuries - and remains deeply rooted in people's minds?

One thing is for sure: creating and promoting 'great role models' (which often pops up as 'a solution' in conversations about failure in Europe) isn't going to cut it. We already have plenty of role models, and Europeans are genuinely terrible at celebrating the relatively few successes we have as it is.

So what's the answer to this 'fear of failure'? There isn't (a single) one, but at the very least we should make an effort to better understand the question. Which brings me to the point of this post.

Fail better is part of a consortium of 15 organisations from across Europe that has responded to a call from the European Commission to address the problem described above (see

life project

Dubbed the 'LIFE' project (Learning Incrementally from Failed Entrepreneurship), the initiative has as its aim to make failure better understood, and less of a taboo. To better grasp what has caused European entrepreneurs to fail at their businesses, and why they haven't (easily) bounced back, but also to map out the stakeholders, programs, facilities and networks that are already in place to remedy that, and to share best practices and success stories to help founders learn and move forward.

The project is hinged on a yearly conference cleverly called Failing Forward (save the date: 14 October in Brussels), but there will also be local spin-off events in a number of markets across Europe.

In the meantime, we're collecting data and evidence 'from the field'. The partners of the project are already interviewing a ton of entrepreneurs in different sectors and countries, and founders of companies at different stages, to gather intelligence on failure / success in Europe.

If you have a great story or learnings from your own ventures (successful or otherwise) to share, don't hesitate to get in touch asap. We can interview you and use the data from your experiences for our research, and perhaps get you op on stage in Brussels this fall to share them with a larger audience.

Because however the overarching problem with failure will be solved, sharing best practices and knowledge is definitely going to be a major part of the solution.

On that note, you should also read: Kolossal failure: 10 lessons I learned from burning through $50,000 on a hardware project that bombed

And in conclusion, you can always reach out to us if you have ideas for partnerships.

Disclaimer: The European Commission has financially backed the LIFE project, and receives compensation for its role as one of the 15 partners of the consortium.

Featured image credit: Sergey Nivens / Shutterstock

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