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Fail better

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Rahel Grunder

Published

22.06.2022

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Innovative ideas rarely lead to success at the first attempt. Nor often at the second attempt. Sometimes never. Just like success, failure has many facets. We spoke with pioneers from two projects about crises and hurdles. And about how sometimes you need to fail in order to succeed.

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Discussion between Franziska Burkhardt (Head of Culture Division, City of Berne), Silvia Hofer (Managing Director, PROGR Berne) and Regula Staub (former Managing Director, Creative Hub) about the state and potential of the cultural and creative industry (photo: Nicole Hametner)

Many projects supported by the Migros Pioneer Fund are success stories; however, not all of them make the leap to self-sufficiency. But how do you deal with the (perceived) crumbling of your idea before your eyes, having invested years of blood, sweat, and tears in it? Regula Staub experienced this in her Creative Hub project. This funding platform supported by the Migros Pioneer Fund had been helping Swiss creatives to commercialise their products and services since 2013. But after eight intensive years, it all came to an end in late 2021. «It was a sad moment, of course,» says Regula, «particularly since our approach worked and had got better and better over the years. The creatives valued our offering and benefited from it.» So, what forced the Creative Hub to shut up shop?

The beginning of the end 

Britta Friedrich, the driver of the project on the part of the Migros Pioneer Fund, which supported the Creative Hub up until 2019, puts it like this: «As in the case of many other projects, securing follow-on financing was a challenge for the Creative Hub, too. To meet this challenge, we took the joint decision to refine the offering before the end of the support period. Instead of general funding based on a scattershot approach, we wanted to shift the emphasis to supporting selected creatives with the development and implementation of their business plans within extensive mentoring and training programmes.» During the course of systematic further development at the time, the idea of switching the focus to sustainable design was born, the aim being to increase the chances of obtaining follow-on financing over the longer term. 

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Kick-off for the relaunch of the Creative Hub funding programmes at the Design Biennale Zürich event, including pitches for newly funded projects (photo: Daniel Frei)

Despite the additional costs due to the relaunch, the situation looked positive in early 2020. The Creative Hub had a good buffer, thanks to successful rounds of funding, and was financially secure for the current year; however, further funds had to be activated in order to keep the project alive sustainably. In terms of the fundraising, the now refined idea with its socially, economically and ecologically relevant emphasis seemed perfect.

How do you look for suitable project partners? The «from 0 to 100» guide offers strategies for keeping the offering alive over the long term.

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Creative Hub’s farewell event at the Zurich Kornsilo – with pitches and deserving winning team KUORI (photo: Florian Spring)

A surprising end

«We were highly motivated and showed great drive and optimism when preparing a decision-making basis for the general meeting», says Regula. In addition to its plan for success, the team outlined a worst-case scenario, including a progressive winding-up. But, much to the team’s surprise, the Board of Management decided to dissolve the Creative Hub within two years, deeming that the prospects of success were too low in view of the funding that was still needed. «It was a massive shock – although understandable, of course, given the worsening coronavirus crisis, the lockdown and the associated financial emergencies, all of which made fundraising even more difficult. Last but not least, we were also up against competition by this time.»

«Without future prospects, the work was no longer as satisfying, of course – but it was all the greater to be backed by a team that kept on pushing right to the end», says Regula. All those who worked at the branch stayed until the end, although some had thought about resigning. The available funds benefited the projects receiving support at this time. And it was possible to maintain and further improve the offering up until the end of 2021. 

The «from 0 to 100» guide contains tips and tricks for learning from mistakes and setbacks. You can find them here.

Don’t lose the pioneering spirit 

Whereas the Creative Hub dealt with its «failure» successfully, other projects indulge in flights of fancy that carry the risk of the Icarus effect. This was the challenge faced by Discuss it – an association that encourages adolescents and young adults to take an interest in politics and get involved. 

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Krista Kaufmann (on the left) and Isabelle Ruckli from the pioneer project Discuss it. (Photo: zvg)

On the back of astonishing local success, the association decided to go nationwide in Switzerland in 2020. The Migros Pioneer Fund recognised the project’s potential and jumped on board. As is the case with all scaling, Discuss it had to create new structures and professionalise its processes – a challenge not to be underestimated, particularly since this is a collaboration with a network of volunteers. The volunteer members suddenly got the feeling that much more was expected of their work. They started to put themselves under pressure, leading among other things to situations where they made promises to schools that the association simply couldn’t keep. «We had to be quick with the countermeasures here», says Project Lead Isabelle Ruckli. «Sometimes volunteers find it hard to admit that they need to clarify things internally beforehand. We want to eradicate this fear so that volunteers can openly say ‘I really don’t know. I’ll check and get back to you tomorrow’ during their discussions with a school.» Krista Kaufmann, Project Lead for French-speaking Switzerland, adds the following: «Despite new, perhaps more rigid structures, we want to and have to maintain and strengthen the pioneering spirit, the commitment and the drive that underpinned the founding and subsequent flourishing of Discuss it.»

Krista formerly worked at the Impact Hub in Geneva and Lausanne, where she organised events inspired by the internationally existing Fuckup Nights. Having found such events extremely positive, she brought the format to Discuss it. «We are an association with 70 members, and we want to actively create this safe space so that we can learn with each other and from each other.»

Fuckup Night

That’s why Krista and Isa organised their take on a Fuckup Night within the project. Isa presented her own story of failure at the evening event. She is responsible for the training programmes for the volunteers at Discuss it – a central part of the project. Isa devised a concept that accounted for a hefty chunk of the budget – only to then realise that it didn’t work because it wasn’t what the members needed at this particular time. «It took some courage to admit it and tell the funders that our planning was wrong and that the project plan in this form made no sense.» Those attending the event asked about where the fuck-up was in Isa’s story. «I myself thought I had failed. But the failing is arguably much bigger and much worse in your own head than it is in reality.»

Even though the stories of failure presented at Discuss it were perhaps hiccups rather than fuck-ups, Isa is quick to point out the following: «We shouldn’t ignore these feelings of failure.» Isa and Krista are convinced that life is much easier when you address unease and uncertainty – not least to help create a healthy mistake culture in Switzerland. «But we don’t want to get all therapeutic; we need to keep it collegial», laughs Krista. That’s why she created a fun but very informative visual as the outcome of her Fuckup Night.  

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Krista’s visual harvesting of the Fuckup Night (visual: Krista Kaufmann)

For more on crisis management, read chapter 3.2 in the «from 0 to 100» guide. Here you will also find some helpful hints on what signals to listen out for in order to avoid burnout or personal bankruptcy

Learn from failure

Discuss it is currently in the middle of its Migros Pioneer Fund funding period. Isa and Krista will certainly continue with the Fuckup Night and also work on the scaling and self-sufficiency of their project. «As a pioneer project, we not only want to generate output by reaching young people, we also want to learn something that we can pass on to other projects», says Isa. «Because, unfortunately, knowledge all too often goes unrecorded and doesn’t get passed on, especially when something fails. We want to change this.»

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To view the Creative Hub retrospective, visit www.creativehub.ch

Visitors to the Creative Hub home page are now greeted by a look back at eight years of pioneering work in funding the creative industry – composed by Regula Staub together with her business partner Jakob Blumer and association president Daniel Schaffro.

«Working on the retrospective rounded off our project perfectly. It also allowed us to give something to the huge network that we had built up.» Furthermore, it was cathartic to collate the facts and figures, crystallise the milestones and re-confront the challenges. «There were some things we were completely unaware of while working because we were so caught up in it all. It was good to compile an analysis. It also filled us with pride.»

Regula feels positive when she looks back on her involvement and experiences at the Creative Hub. «We had a lasting impact on the Swiss funding scene. It’s hugely pleasing that the creative industry has a totally different status today compared with just eight years ago.» There are now incubators at the universities. Here alumni can expand their knowledge by learning about basic economics and entrepreneurship. Funding for start-ups and creatives has also improved massively. The Creative Hub has made itself obsolete in a sense, re-emphasising the fact that its closure actually represents a success. 

Photo/stage: Unsplash