Who chooses the projects for the EEPA 2017 shortlist? Curious about who makes the decisions? Time to meet the EEPA Jury 2017! Today Promoting Enterprise is introducing the first two members of the EEPA 2017 Jury: Karen Boers and Lisa Steigertahl, who shared with us what they will be looking for in a project and what they are looking forward to at this year’s SME Assembly 2017 in Tallinn.
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.
Lisa Steigertahl is co-founder and and CEO of the European Startup Network (alongside fellow jury member Karen Boers). Previously she also worked at the German Startups Association as both Head of Research and International Strategy and European Relations Manager.
What will make an EEPA project stand out for you? What will make it special?
Karen: I am looking out for projects that have made a real impact on entrepreneurs’ lives, either by helping to change the rules of the game in the local ecosystem or by providing entrepreneurs with better access to (national and/or international) customers, financing and talent.
Lisa: For me a project that creates a new solution for a demand that we did not know we had yet, or has found an innovative way of solving a problem will stand out. I am also interested in European applicability and projects that could be transferred to other markets.
Which is your favourite category and why?
Karen: Investing in entrepreneurial skills, as I believe investing in human capital – youngsters as well as adults – is the best way to boost entrepreneurship and counteract poverty and extremism through a more inclusive approach.
Lisa: Supporting the internationalisation of business, since I believe that moving from national borders to international markets will not only tremendously determine the success of a business in times of globalisation but further shape a strong European market
Finally, what are you looking forward to at the SME Assembly 2017?
Karen: To meet all the highly motivated people across Europe that are putting their best efforts to make a difference and create opportunities for others.
Lisa: To meet and engage with the people behind the projects.
Interested in finding out who else is on the Jury with Karen and Lisa? Come back next week to meet another juror!
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.
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:
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 the 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!
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.
We’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
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.
As 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…
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.
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