But for many entrepreneurs at ADE, being nominated the creator of the year's most major balls-up is a dream come true. Confused? Let us explain.
For the past couple of years, the start-up experts at Innofest have joined the ADE Pro Conference with an event panel different from anything we've seen before. Every year, as part of the subconference ADE Green, the organization (which helps entrepreneurs develop and test their innovations), hosts an award ceremony to track down the biggest f*ck up of ADE.
The prize? A €1000 check. The premise? Getting investment to whoever needs it most.
Failing = winning
There’s a burning question on everyone’s mind, of course. Why on earth are we not only searching for the biggest fuck-up – but actually celebrating it? Luise Härtel explains why it's good to not only celebrate wins but also give room to experimentation: “ADE Green offers a stage to programs off the beaten path. In this case, we want to emphasize and celebrate the importance of making mistakes,” expresses Luise Härtel of ADE Green. She adds that doing so affords room to the idea of experimentation. “After all, Innovation goes hand in hand with trial and error, and Innofest has found a special way to show that failures can ultimately lead to valuable lessons and innovations.”
According to Härtel, our focus should not only be on success stories, but also on a culture where creativity and experimentation are encouraged - and that means recognising where failure plays a part. “Organizations with the ambition to make an impact and improve the world – whether about making your festival more sustainable or making a club night safer – are sometimes incredibly critical and see precisely what still needs to be improved. Without a willingness to take risks and fail, we cannot evolve and develop new ideas', she comments.
And the results are pretty telling. The F*ck-Up Award Ceremony follows Innofest's Innovation Showcase on the same day, which shows the fruits of Innofests failure-friendly labour. Promising Innofest startups so far include a calculator that maps the CO2 footprint of festival food by Blockchain Diner, a natural fertilizer made from human urine collected at events by Toopi, a flexible and renewable energy supply through interchangeable batteries by Renset, and a mobile washing facility to clean reusable plates and cutlery on-site by Ozarka.
We've all seen footage online of campers at festival sites leaving behind their trash, camp supplies, and even tents (remember Burning Man?). With a forecast by Allied Market Research of the entire industry being valued at a staggering $1.1 trillion in 2019 and a predicted $2.1 trillion by 2032, it may come as no surprise that festivals can be somewhat polluting because they're – well, very large in size.
A typical festival is estimated to generate a footprint of 25 kg of carbon dioxide per person working or attending the event. That makes a total volume of approximately 160,000 tons emitted by festivals in 2019, equivalent to the annual emissions from nearly 100,000 cars or around 50,000 households (that's a small city!), according to large polluter Tata Steel. We don't have any more recent numbers or research on the festival industry because of its hiatus caused by the pandemic.
So It’s no wonder the European Union and the Government of The Netherlands have issued 'The Green Deal Circular Festivals': an initiative where organizers and governmental institutes work together to create a blueprint for resilient and circular festivals by 2025.
Another one of ADE Green's panels, a workshop that took place on ADE Friday, is built around The Green Deal, where organizers, artists, policymakers, and other industry professionals learned more about developing circular solutions based on the findings of 44 leading festivals from 14 countries. Besides the Green Deal workshop, ADE Green's programming offered a workshop about Carbon Offsetting, where experts explain precisely how festivals can handle topics like carbon offsetting, emissions, and climate neutrality, next to many other exciting panels on green topics.
Testing while dancing
Last year, the Innofest F*ck-Up Award Ceremony boasted startups with innovative ideas that they tested at actual in-action festival sites, including the emission-free energy supply of Watermeln, the trash recycler of Uppcat, and the online ingredients checker of the Blockchain Burger, the integrated solar panels in building fences by Solar Carpet, and circular organic waste removal by Bokashi. The reason the award ceremony returned again this year is evident, according to Luise Härtel: “It's incredibly important that such solutions successfully reach the market. Innofest plays a crucial role by linking innovations to field tests, allowing impact entrepreneurs to test and optimize their ideas in practice. Integrating Innofest at ADE Green bridges the gap between the music industry and innovation.”
After all: without fuck-ups, we wouldn't see change. The award itself is as feared as it is wanted, explains Härtel: 'The 1,000€ reward serves as an encouragement for the startup that made the biggest mistake during testing to learn from their mistakes eventually. For example, a previous winner of the Fuck-Up Award is Grünten. They made a ‘fatal’ purchasing mistake once, won the award, tried again - and now you can get their delicious vegetable oats in most Dutch grocery stores!”. The fuck-up was, indeed, major; in a blog post, founder Berend Eberson opened up about the fact the director of the company had entered them for the award (ouch) after he made the “financially painful” mistake of severely over-ordering packing sleeves. But his mistake came with a silver lining to the tune of 1,000€; turning the story right around.
This year, Startup StatieHeld took home the check, thanks to numerous glitches while testing their can and bottle deposit systems at Mysteryland, with video footage of their hiccups going viral on TikTok.
But it's worth noting that not only are Innofest investing in solutions to problems with this award ceremony - they're also changing the landascape of experimentation, and taking the sting out of the fear of failure. “Part of getting your startup to succeed is sticking to the overall picture: from failure to success," says says Härtel. "Just like with this award ceremony.”