THE BLOG

My Message to Female Entrepreneurs: Embrace the Fear and Take the Plunge

09/06/2015 17:13 | Updated 27 May 2016

I have failed many times in my career, but I have also succeeded. And I have definitely learnt more from the former. My belief is this: with every failure in your career, you gain experience and understanding that will benefit you in the future. To fail is to learn. It is a positive.

Yet there is a European attitude to failure that is troublesome and affects many would be start-ups. In my current role as special envoy for NL Start-Ups, and while previously working for the European Commission's Digital Agenda, I have met many potential digital entrepreneurs, often women, who have shared with me truly awesome, innovative ideas for a business. Yet something holds them back - they are just too afraid to step out of the comfort zone and try.
They are worried about being judged if it doesn't work out. They are worried their CV will look weak if it features a series of short-term ventures. They are of course worried about the financial implications.

In my role in the Netherlands, I'm working actively to develop and unlock talent and innovation, and support start-ups who need encouragement to overcome their challenges. As part of this, I want them to learn that failure is simply another word for experience.

If it is only fear that holds you back, then I say embrace the fear and take the plunge. There is nothing more exciting and rewarding than starting up your own business. Startups represent the entrepreneurial and innovative spirit that knows no boundaries, nor waits for what lies ahead. Startups create the future themselves. Be a part of that.

And when you do try, here are my top tips:

1. Never Give Up

Like I said, there will be times when you fail. Or nearly fail. But be creative, be fearless and try, try again. During my career, I have heard 'no' from people who I needed to hear 'yes' from, and I have made mistakes that set me back. But it always made me more determined and more resourceful and with that you gain confidence and success. Think of any of your female role models - I guarantee you that these women will all have heard 'no' at one point in their careers, but they will have fought against the odds and worked even harder to achieve their dreams.

2. Keep dreaming and follow your dreams

And with that in mind, believe in your dreams. Trust yourself and your gut feeling, and when the road gets rocky, look ahead at the end goal and visualise your dreams becoming a reality. Be the person you want to be, and follow the business path you really want. And to help you get there, surround yourself with staff, partners, investors, family and friends who will support your dreams.

3. Develop a thick skin

You will of course come across people who won't support your dreams. You will have the door closed in your face many times - you might even unfortunately come across people who don't take you seriously because you are a woman. You'll need to develop a thick skin because these 'nay-sayers' will always exist. But that's 'their problem, not yours'. You simply have to learn to navigate around unhelpful people to find a solution. Focus on those wonderful supporters of yours instead. Ask for their help and believe in their encouragement.

4. Take risks and push the boundaries

If you have started-up your own business, well congratulations because that makes you a risk-taker. And that is good. But now you need to keep on taking risks because otherwise you will never push the boundaries. Be innovative. Always. Your business will need to evolve, and that might mean introducing new ideas, new staff, new technologies, new partnerships, new financing and so on. All these come with risk, but they also all come with great rewards if played right.

5. Help other women

And finally. There is a special place in hell for women that don't support each other. Don't find yourself there. Take everything you learn, and be willing to share and mentor others. You aren't the first woman who has felt fear and needed support in their careers, and you won't be the last. Please share your start-up experiences and be proud of both your successes and failures and what you learnt from them, and you will help a future generation of entrepreneurs. And that feels good.

Neelie was recently named as one of the fifty most inspiring women in the technology sector by Inspiring Fifty. Inspiring Fifty is a pan-European programme that identifies, encourages, develops and showcases women in leadership positions within the technology community. The aim is to inspire a new generation of female leaders and entrepreneurs across Europe and indeed worldwide, leading the charge to affect meaningful and durable change.