Fear of Failure and the ICT Entrepreneurship Process

Centre for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Studies

FACE Entrepreneurship is a non-profit communications campaign financed by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 framework. Having read about the research carried out by Leeds University Business School on the blog, FACE Entrepreneurship approached the Research and Innovation blog team asking if they could write a piece about their Delphi study on the fear of failure being a natural part of the ICT entrepreneurship process.

FACE logo

A Delphi study carried out by FACE Entrepreneurship

The perception of the fear of failure is one of the main deterrents for Information and Communications Technology (ICT) entrepreneurs in Europe, but it is also an inherent possibility in any process. That is why FACE (Failure Aversion Change in Europe) Entrepreneurship has taken on the challenge to accept failure as a natural part of development needed to enhance education and evolution of ICT entrepreneurship.  

The FACE project aims to promote ICT entrepreneurship and to foster a risk-taking culture through a communications campaign throughout EU member states. FACE Entrepreneurship wants to change the perception many Europeans have of failure especially when it comes to starting up an ICT business. FACE Entrepreneurship accepts the challenge to help aspiring entrepreneurs overcome and face those fears.

Fears related to the road to ICT entrepreneurship

This project benefitted from the involvement of Dr Jan Brinkmann, Professor of Entrepreneurship at ESADE Business School, to design a Delphi study (a method based on a structured process for collecting and distilling knowledge from a group of experts by means of a series of questionnaires interspersed with controlled opinion feedback) to identify the main fears of failure, their causes, consequences and the best ways to get past them and continue on the road to entrepreneurship.

An advisory board of five experts in the fields of entrepreneurship, investment and mentorship participated in the study. The advisory board then counted on the insights and support of twenty-five other expert profiles in the same fields.

The first round of the study found that the main doubts and concerns related to the fear of failure, and which affect entrepreneurship, included:

  • Financial Fears - The fear of ending up bankrupt, penniless and/or homeless or of not being able to raise the necessary funds to keep the project afloat
  • Professional Career Fears - The fear that a previous professional career could end and that one’s life’s efforts in education and work might be in vain
  • Competency Fears - The fear of not having adequate knowledge to start a project and the lack of access to experts as well as a fear of feeling all alone and not knowing how to carry on
  • Individual Liberty Fears - The fear of giving up free time for family, friends and hobbies due to the time commitment and effort required when starting up
  • Social-Perception Fears - The fear that others will think the idea is crazy and doubt or ridicule the entrepreneur. It also includes the fear that if the venture doesn’t work out, the entrepreneur will be thought of as a failure for life and not approach opportunities in the future.
  • Self-Perception Fears - The fear of self-doubt and lacking the confidence to lead the project. Another part of this fear is that the entrepreneur might consider themselves a failure which may have a lasting psychological impact.
  • Fear of Losing it all - A combination of all of the previous fears.

The study determined certain factors that can increase the level of doubt in an entrepreneur. One such example is that if an entrepreneur has experienced success previously then they will have more to lose by starting their own business, on the other hand it also shows that previous success can provide a financial cushion, or a safety net, that allows the entrepreneur to feel more comfortable about taking a risk.

Age is a determining factor in the fear of failure

Another factor which magnified the fear of failure was found to be age. Younger entrepreneurs tend to face business ventures with less fear as they feel they have less to lose, but they also have to deal with their lack of experience and knowledge.  

There are many more reasons that attribute to an increase in the level of fear of failure that FACE Entrepreneurship has been addressing through interviews with entrepreneurs, university professors, mentors and investors. Many of those interviewed agree with the fact that in Europe the mentality and social stigma of failure must be erased for a noticeable change in young start-ups may be seen.

The true value of the fear of failure

Throughout the study an interesting question also arose: Does fear have just negative consequences? The answer to that is “no”. The experts pointed out that fear can give an entrepreneur a sense of urgency to work harder and learn from their mistakes.

That is why FACE Entrepreneurship is focused on altering the idea that failure is detrimental; fear of failure is inherent in the development of any project, the difference is how entrepreneurs deal with this reality.

The study highlighted that aspiring entrepreneurs benefit most from real stories of fear and failure as well as the success that other experienced entrepreneurs have had, therefore the FACE Entrepreneurship project is committed to finding and sharing with young Europeans all of these experiences through real stories, expert advice and an amusing web series encouraging young Europeans to face their fears and launch their own start-ups.  

For more information, visit the FACE Entrepreneurship website or Facebook page.

Entrepreneurship research at Leeds

The University of Leeds has a Centre for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Studies which is the focal point for enterprise education and research on the campus. The centre supports research into enterprise education, entrepreneurship and enterprise development. Research by Professor Sally Jones, Carla Quesada-Pallares and Professor Helle Neergaard (Aarhus University) is currently being developed on entrepreneurs’ attitudes to risk and control and how that might impact on the growth of their business. Dr Richard Tunstall and Professor Luke Pittaway (Ohio University) are developing research on how trust and commitment forms amongst corporate venturing teams in uncertain organisational and market environments.

For more information about the variety of research which is undertaken at the centre, visit the Centre for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Studies research page.

Contact us

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Email: research.lubs@leeds.ac.uk
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect the views of Leeds University Business School or the University of Leeds.