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Embracing failure, the new path to European startup success?

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Today Promoting Enterprise welcomes back Karen Boers, co-founder & CEO of Startups.be and European Startup Network, for her insights into the taboo of failure in the European startup world and why failure and the lessons learnt from it could actually be the key to future success.

5 years ago Failing Forward was launched as a keynote conference, with big role models testifying about the hardships they had overcome along the way and why the lessons they learned were critical to their success. Because let’s face it, failure is nothing more than a stepping stone in a learning process – and yet we seem to be very ashamed to talk about it. Thankfully, the campaign has been growing across Europe with events, media campaigns and social media stories – breaking through the stigma associated with failure.

Why do you think people are so afraid of failure in the startup world?

European startups have long felt the sting of failed ventures, yet forums to discuss what went wrong are scarce. When we started to invite speakers for a conference on this topic, we really experienced how deeply people – especially entrepreneurs – fear discussing the subject in public.

Yet failure is not something to feel ashamed of. In many areas of life, it is common sense that practice makes perfect, and practice requires – guess what – trial and error, or failure. In the US, investors applaud entrepreneurs with previous experience, good and bad, as long as there are clear take-aways from that experience. In Europe, it’s all or nothing: either you make it the first time around or you might be banned from entrepreneurial life forever.

Why is failure important and what can we learn from it?

The point is not that we should try to avoid failure – that goes against the heart of innovation. The point is that we should embrace the lessons learned from failure. When a kid falls off the bike, you don’t tell them to go figure it out themselves either. You tell them what they’re doing wrong, help them learn and persevere – and become an expert before you know it.

So whenever we take a wrong turn or fall face first on the ground, let’s not be shy about it, help each other stand up again and prevent others from making the same mistakes.

How have you been tackling the ‘failing’ stigma in Belgium and Europe since starting this initiative?

Starting out with the keynote conference, we started gathering more partners around the topic. First we were able to join forces with 15 partners in a two year European project, tackling the subject across the different communities. We did this through local events, panels in big startup events as well as some research into the obstacles leading to failure and countermeasures allowing us to share and recommend best practices.

At present, a four year Flemish project is allowing us to take the campaign to a new level by including local events, a big media campaign every six months and an online platform where people can share their own stories.

What progress have you seen since the last failing forward conference?

It’s been great to see the progress in how easily people talk about the subject. Previously we had a very tough time lining up 10 hot shot speakers for the first editions, now people are knocking on our door, eager to share their stories. Not all people dare to speak about the topic that openly, but the culture is shifting slowly but steadily.

Mainstream press have also picked up on the topic, providing many more two-sided tales of the failed entrepreneur rather than stories focusing exclusively on their failures.

Read more about Karen Boers here on Promoting Enterprise:

From Startup Manifesto to a truly unified European startup ecosystem

Steering the heavy education tanker away from a head-on collision with the future

Failing is not contagious, but success is

Want to find out more about Failing Forward? Visit the website and be sure to look up Startups.be and the European Startup Network!

From Startup Manifesto to a truly unified European startup ecosystem

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Karen Boers, co-founder & CEO of Startups.be and European Startup Network; is our current entrepreneur in residence. This week she shares the story of the European Startup Manifesto and the ongoing developments in the world of policy affecting Europe’s entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs provide the oxygen in our economy, creating new businesses and new jobs, new ways to look at thportrait_karen_boerse world and to interact with everyone around us. They invent and they build, they wreck and replace. In doing so, they often come up against the boundaries of legislation and regulation that have yet to adapt. Although creative ways can often be found to overcome such obstacles, this can slow them down considerably, allowing companies from more forward-looking regions in the world to snatch the market from right under their noses. Sometimes they chose to flee the country or even the continent, moving to places where experiments are welcomed and policy adapts more agilely to changing circumstances.

You may think that entrepreneurs have formed a powerful lobby to counteract all this, but they are already slaving away 24/7 to safeguard and build their businesses and teams, putting out today’s fires. Fighting for a better policy framework for entrepreneurs is often the last thing on their minds. They are scattered across smaller businesses, across regions, and have little structured organisation, meaning little changed for a very long time.

In 2013, Neelie Kroes as Commissioner for Digital Agenda called upon the Startup Europe Leaders Club to craft a European Startup Manifesto, a set of high-impact recommendations to create a better entrepreneurial climate in Europe. Yet many of the recommendations touched upon areas in which European Commission has little or no impact. It was up to the Members States to implement the change. The startup community rose to the challenge and got organised. An entire Startup Manifesto Movement emerged – with entrepreneurs across countries voicing their solutions and suggestions!

Now three years later, almost every European startup community has created their very own Startup Manifesto – often crowdsourced – and many have had considerable impact on local policy makers, as demonstrated by the Startup Manifesto Policy Tracker. Tax shelters were introduced, legislation on e-commerce was modernised, crowdfunding was eased, governments and corporations started buying from startups, the procurement legislation was adapted, a startup test is under development to stress test all new legislation for impact on startups, and much more!

The European Commission continued with its support, developing a Startup Europe program to connect startup hubs across Europe and allow more business to start and grow in the EU – and “startup managers” have emerged at all levels of policy making, from city to international. Some of the collaborations that grew out of these efforts grew into long-term sustainable platforms and networks. The European Startup Network unifies over 20 national startup associations to create a common voice and provide data analysis, facilitate an international go-to-market and build strong national ecosystems. Allied for Startups acts on behalf of startups worldwide. Entrepreneurs have also stepped up to the challenge individually and started sharing their stories of success, but also on (how to learn from) failure. Understanding that challenges were shifting from starting business to fast-growing companies scaling across Europe, a European ScaleUp Manifesto was once more crowdsourced from all those different communities, with clear action points for all involved at any level.

It is clear that the entrepreneurial voice is here to stay. Hopefully this voice will help construct a more inclusive and tolerant world, one in which change and diversity can be embraced rather than feared. We’re on the barricades for all those who wish to develop their passion into their profession – their dreams into reality. If you’re a dreamer, make sure no one holds you back, for there is always a way to change whatever is in your way! So what you can do? Sign the ScaleUp Manifesto and join the movement!europe-qnifesto

SME Week Newsletter: Issue #7

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SME Assembly 2016, EEPA Awards Ceremony

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The month of the SME Assembly 2016 is finally upon us – it is set to take place in Bratislava on 23-25 November, 2016. It will gather experts and entrepreneurs from across Europe with a common goal to collaborate on helping European enterprises strive and scale up in Europe and beyond.

The event will kick off with the Business Tours and the European SME Week Reception, both hosted by the Slovak Presidency.

The second day of the Assembly will include keynote addresses by EU SME Envoys and European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs Elżbieta Bieńkowska, and Slovakian Minister of the Economy Peter Žiga.

After that – Get in the Ring! As part of the Global Start up competition we will challenge entrepreneurs to a pitching competition like no other seen before. The day will culminate in the presentation of the nominees and announcement of the winners in the EEPA Awards, followed by a gala dinner.

Friday will begin by celebrating the EEPA’s tenth birthday. The session Ten Years On will be dedicated to predictions on how the world of SMEs, start-and scale-ups will look like in 2026. The winner of the Youth Essay Competition ‘What can the EU do to encourage more young people to become entrepreneurs’ will present their prize-winning entry before an audience of delegates from around the world.

The rest of the day, participants will have the opportunity to participate and collaborate during the many policy sessions, workshops and master classes.

With seminars, pitch battles, an exhibition and so much more, this event is one to look forward to! Read more >>

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Steering the heavy education tanker away from a head-on collision with the future

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Our current entrepreneur in residence Karen Boers, co-founder & CEO of Startups.be and European Startup Network; has returned with a second blog post. This time she gives us her views on the current European education system and whether it really prepares the youth of today for the challenges they will face.

portrait_karen_boersWe’re always talking about the fast moving societal changes and how digitalisation is changing every aspect of our private and professional lives and will continue to do so. This is absolutely true – digital technologies have connected and empowered nearly every citizen on earth. After the industrial revolution, this trend could very well be the paving the way for different societal and economical models, which in their turn could lead to severe power shifts from the happy few, to the well-connected within the next decade.

Some very striking images have been circulating social media recently, showing the differences between what we called a ‘telephone’ a century ago and today, and the huge difference between what we called a ‘vehicle’ (i.e. horse & carriage) and modern cars and transport. There was also a comparison between what a classroom looked like 150 years ago – and its modern equivalent, it is unchanged!

We are preparing today’s youngsters for their future in very much the same way we have been preparing labourers to go into the factories for the past decades. We are training them to be silent, listen carefully and not question orders but rather execute them in the efficient, large-scale way we have grown accustomed to. We are training them to think hierarchically and obey – day after day and year after year. The reason being this is the way our society was structured for many years and how our economies thrived in the mass production age.

But now we are facing different challenges. Mass production is suffering in the western economies. Hierarchical icons are being disrupted by flexible, agile businesses. Collaboration, creativity and the ability to change are becoming ever more dominant in the new business paradigms, and it’s clear that there is no way back. Millennials are already exhibiting signs of not caring too much about steady careers, future-proof choices or life-long guarantees. They think very differently about ownership, citizenship, sharing, learning and professional careers. They are self-organising, always connected and pay it forward much more than previous generations.

There is no way that the education that we are currently providing Generation Z youngsters is preparing them properly for what is ahead, and there is growing consensus that future generations might not put up with the inertia of the current system, eroding it from the inside out. The information overload is growing, and we need to urgently transition into a system that educates youngsters to deal with that, to find their way in an ever-connected and saturated network of information sources, opinions and potential expertise. Self-learning and life-long learning are gaining in importance. Additional skills are often acquired outside of the school system at present, through volunteer programs and alternative schooling. Learning how to learn is therefore growing inherently more important than any kind of knowledge transfer.

I would not argue for a total disruption of our school system, though. Europe has been on the frontlines of (free) quality education, equal opportunities for all and innovation for a long time. Let’s now make sure Europe initiates a power shift in traditional education, slowly steering the heavy tanker towards a coaching environment, with expert inputs from all societal angles, project and applied learning and a wide range of soft skills on top of purely academic knowledge transfer. That way I am sure we will keep nurturing generations of renowned business and academic leaders, as well as a flexible and future-proof workforce.

Read Karen’s last blog post: Failing is not contagious, but success is 

SME Week Newsletter: Issue #6

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Startups in the spotlight, EEPA shortlist

portrait_karen_boersLast month, our blog focused on female entrepreneurship, with some interesting insights into the challenges women face in business and how they overcome them. This month, we are putting the spotlight on startups.

Startups are invaluable drivers of the European economy. They are particularly important in times of economic constraint. By responding to a need identified in the market, startups have the potential to generate new wealth, produce innovative products and services and create jobs.

To highlight the important role played by startups in the European economy, throughout October our Entrepreneur in Residence and other bloggers will share their stories on the Promoting Enterprise blog. If you know of any startup entrepreneurs with inspiring stories to tell, let us know and we’ll do our best to feature them among others across our social media channelsRead more >>

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Failing is not contagious, but success is

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Karen Boers is co-founder and Managing Director of Startups.be, which brings hundreds of startups together with incubators, accelerators, investors and public actors in a local startup ecosystem. She also runs the European Startup Network, which aims to help create a truly pan-European bottom-up startup ecosystem. In this blog post, Karen talks about the challenges she has encountered, how she manages to achieve a good work-life balance, and her plans for the future.

portrait_karen_boersAs the co-founder and CEO of both the Belgian startup network Startups.be and the European Startup Network, I have always been passionate about creating opportunities for other people – especially entrepreneurs – to thrive. Connecting the dots, helping to create the right environment and bringing people and organisations together in meaningful relationships, that’s what I love to do.

It’s been challenging these last few years, as I never considered myself to be a (social) entrepreneur in the first place. Learning to close a deal, to master financial flows, pitch my project, make myself vulnerable and conquer the never-ending cash flow challenges are just a couple of the skills I have had to develop along the way.

It’s been great, though, to go after my dreams and show our kids that you can reach for the stars and nobody should tell you it’s impossible. My boyfriend and I have five of them jointly, so we really care about what the future holds for them. Being an entrepreneur allows me to work really hard, while still being available for them – picking them up at the school gate and helping them with their homework, their small fears and challenges. It’s helped me to show them that a healthy work-life balance can also mean being passionate about what you do, that work can be fun at least part of the time and that you can blend it together in a way that makes sense to you and your family.

Taking on the challenge of better connecting and streamlining the startup ecosystem across Europe comes with new challenges – and more time away from the family. But I really hope we can build an environment in which digital skills, a creative and entrepreneurial mind-set and the opportunities to put your talents to good use are within the reach of every individual, wherever they come from.

If I had to do it all over again, I would probably not change that much. I might be a little less naive to start out with, a little less cautious about empty promises and a little more aware of the time lapse between an agreement and actual money in your bank account. But, all-in-all, every single mistake I’ve made has brought me one step closer to where I stand today – and that’s exactly where I’m happy to be.

Those mistakes did teach me that it can be a very lonely ride as an entrepreneur, though. That’s why we are inviting role models from different industries to share their stories and lessons learned at our annual “Failing Forward” conference, proving that we all learn by falling down and stepping up again – and a helping hand can make a world of difference. Since, in the end, failing is not contagious, but success is…

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Once you’re bitten by the bug, there is no way back. As I am very frustrated by the inability of our traditional educational system – notwithstanding the tremendous efforts some teachers and school staff are putting in – I guess that will be my next battlefield. Starting with the launch of a coding school for the underprivileged in Brussels city centre in early 2017, I am hoping to tear down yet another barrier to opportunities for all.

For more info:

www.startups.be

www.startupmanifesto.be

www.europeanstartups.org

www.karenboers.be

https://be.linkedin.com/in/karenboers

https://twitter.com/karenboers

Female entrepreneurship when 8.5 out of 10 startups are founded by men

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lisa_neuLisa Schreier has been Head of Research & International Strategy at the German Startup Association since April 2014, where she is responsible for the German and European Startup Monitor. She is also co-founder & CEO of the European Startup Network, which she set up jointly with Karen Boers from Startups.be. Before working with startups, she worked in consulting with the department for Inter-Parliamentary Conferences of the Bundestag in Germany, the commercial department of the International Chamber of Commerce in New York, and the American Consulate in Munich.

The first study on the European Startup ecosystem, the European Startup Monitor (2016), reported that, on average, 14.7% of startups in Europe were founded by female entrepreneurs. This means that over 85% of startups in Europe are founded by men. Although, some countries like Sweden (33.3%) and France (26.7%) paint a more positive picture, this number means that there is an urgent need to promote gender equality in entrepreneurship.

EU monitor report

There is no clear explanation why founding a business is predominantly a male domain. One finding is that there has not been enough academic research on this topic, in addition to various soft factors, such as cultural influences, which make it difficult to resolve this mainly societal puzzle. When attempting to find answers to the “why”, three main areas should be taken into consideration: family, financing and sanity.

Firstly, when looking at the major startup hub – Germany, the German Startup Monitor (2015) found that 80.9% of startup founders – both male and female – completed tertiary education. It also found that the average female founder is 31.1 years old when founding her first business. Looking at demographic statistics, women with tertiary education on average give birth at 31 years of age. Since the average age of founding a business correlates with the average age of giving birth, this raises a question as to whether women are tending to choose family over entrepreneurship.

Secondly, studies have shown that attracting investors is more difficult for female founders since only 10% of startups that raised Series A rounds had female founders. Unfortunately, there are not yet any comparable studies on gender and venture capital in Europe. But the trend is alarming: 85% of all venture capital–funded businesses have no women on their executive teams. What’s more, only 2.7% of venture capital-funded companies have a female CEO. Looking at the venture capital firms themselves, female partners make up only 6% – therefore 94% of decision-makers at venture capital funds are male.

The third, and perhaps most surprising reason that is often discussed relates to the characteristics of founders. When starting and promoting a business under high-risk conditions, where there is massive uncertainty, founders cannot justify their decision with rational facts that have been carefully analysed. Successful founders are characterised by their decisiveness, resilience, and confidence. Not enough female founders are being put forward as role models for entrepreneurship, so these leadership traits are predominantly identified as masculine. Many females may decide not to found a business due to the high risk and uncertainty associated with this type of investment.

The upside is that, within current developments, there has been a change in perception of mixed founding teams. Research has proven that having a woman on the founding team has positive effects. First of all, when venture-backed, women-led tech startups bring in 12% more revenue than male-owned tech companies and achieve a 35% higher return on investment. Mixed teams have further proven to be the most efficient, since team members generally tend to be more focused on problem solving when gender is not an influential factor on the team.

So what do we have to change? We have to establish an education system that teaches about entrepreneurship and digital skills at an early age, as well as encouraging all genders to believe in themselves. All genders should be encouraged to be courageous enough to follow an idea without constantly worrying about failure. Embracing the possibility of failure should not only be taught in school but must be embedded in European culture. If society starts to accept out of the box thinking in both males and females while providing a network of mentors instead of critics, we may be surprised to see where the European Startup ecosystem may go in the future.

16 national startup associations join forces in the European Startup Network (ESN)

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esn-logoOn September 7th, 2016, the European Startup Network (ESN) was officially launched in Brussels. With a total of 16 democratically organized, non-profit, and independent startup associations from Europe join forces into the ESN, the ESN constitutes the European umbrella organisation representing startups. The ESN’s main goal is to harmonize and empower the European startup ecosystems with respect to the entrepreneurial culture, market access, and the legal environment. Karen Boers and Lisa Schreier are the current directors of the ESN in Brussels and Berlin.

To achieve its goals, the ESN develops an action plan with three main pillars. The first is scientific research about the European startup ecosystem to create transparency and offer fact-based policy advice at the European level. To this end, the ESN is the editor of the European Startup Monitor (ESM), an annual study on startups and founder-friendly framework conditions in Europe. Secondly, the ESN supports the internationalisation of startups and facilitates international go-to-market through the development of a soft landing program to ease startups into foreign markets. Finally, the ESN helps to build and strengthen national startup ecosystems.

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Nils-Erik Jansson, chairman of the ESN, states: “Startups are already truly international with respect to their staff and the markets they operate in. The foundation of ESN is the logical next step to reflect this global nature, also in the fields of advocacy and interest representation of startups. The ESN is the first permanent coalition of national startup associations and represents more than 25,000 startups across all sectors and stages of development at the European level. It is very important to take this step and to bundle our resources on a supranational level, as many laws that are elaborated and passed in Brussels have direct impact on all European startups without their voice being included in the debate so far. “

The ESN’s establishment was furthermore supported by the two founding partners MyMicroInvest and Deutsche Messe AG.

Jakobi, Head of CeBIT Business Development at the Deutsche Messe AG, comments: “The Deutsche Messe AG is pleased to support the European startup ecosystem as one of the founding partners of the ESN. With the „SCALE 11“, Europe’s leading platform for digital startups, we offer a perfect platform for European digital founders to connect with established companies from all industries and regions during the CeBIT. This further makes way for the internationalization of the startups’ distribution channels.  Startups cannot only build valuable networks from exchanges at the various country-specific joint stands, but also from international delegations visiting the CeBIT.”

MyMicroInvest chairman José Zurstrassen adds: “Allowing European startups to scale quickly across the fragmented markets is essential for their survival in a truly global marketplace. Through this partnership with ESN, we will be able to provide more easy and qualitative access to funding across Europe, which is a very important element in the scaling process.”

To become a member of the ESN, national startup associations must comply with three criteria. First, the applicants must represent a large number of their country’s startups proven by a high number of members or the association’s involvement in a national startup manifesto with respective traction. Second, ESN members must be independent which can be proved by transparent and diversified sources of financing. Applicants must be membership-based with democratic structures. Third, the applicants must be non-profit and may not pursue any economic goals. Should a national startup association have interest in being a member of the ESN but does not yet meet all the criteria, its membership might remain pending if the applicant has shown commitment on fulfilling the set criteria. The ESN supports pending members in achieving the criteria.

Current country representatives in the ESN

Austrian Startups

Beta-i Association (Portugal)

German Startup Association

Italia Startup

Spanish Startup Association

Start:up Slovenia

Swiss Startup Association*

Startups.be (Belgium)

Startup Britain

Startup Cyprus

Startup Delta (The Netherlands)

Startup Estonia*

Startup Ireland

Startup Norway*

Startup Poland

Swedish Startup Association

* The Swiss Startup Association, Startup Estonia and Startup Norway are closely collaborating with the ESN but not full members at present.

Press Contact: press@europeanstartups.org

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