Project Fenix

Fenix Stories about entrepreneurial resilience and failure

Project Fenix is an initiative of the Professorship of Entrepreneurship, which looks at different facets of entrepreneurship. It has been decided to explicitly put failure and restart on the agenda because this is an underexposed side of entrepreneurship, both in research and in education.

Project Fenix

Project Fenix has the focus on resilience and failure because entrepreneurship is characterized by trial and error and the reality is that many companies do not make it. These failures and especially the way in which entrepreneurs overcome them, is at the heart of our research.

The goals of this project are:

  • Show that (dealing with) adversity, failure and recovery are a natural part of the entrepreneurship process and that even the best and most experienced entrepreneurs can be confronted with them;
  • Describe, through publications, teaching materials and presentations, how entrepreneurs and their stakeholders respond to and overcome entrepreneurial failure;
  • Formulate and share findings, through policy advice and education, to reduce the (financial, social, emotional and other) costs of business failure, accelerate recovery and preserve entrepreneurial capital

We want to achieve this by collecting and analysing stories from entrepreneurs who have experienced entrepreneurial failure. Although each story is personal, the interviews focus on how cognitions of and interactions between the entrepreneur and their social networks influence the failure and recovery process. After the interviews have been anonymized and edited, the stories are included in our database. In no case will a story in the database be traceable to an individual entrepreneur or company. This database of over a thousand stories is used solely for scientific research and educational purposes.

What do we do?

Since 2017, we've been collecting stories about various types of entrepreneurial failure and recovery. The experiences of failure may relate to extreme cases such as bankruptcy or involuntary termination or sale of a (part of) company. Examples of stories include innovation projects, new market introductions, or other investments that went wrong and caused the company to close a branch or department, lay off one or more employees, or replace management in order to keep the rest of the company alive.

Based on the stories, we can map out patterns and provide (scientific) insight into the process of failure and restart. And the entrepreneur is also a role model for the students by sharing the story. Sharing the experiences helps future entrepreneurs prepare for, deal with failure and recover better. Based on insights from research, we have developed a protocol with which the entrepreneurs can be interviewed by students.


A teaching module has been created for use in education and tailored to specific programs and courses to serve the educational goals accordingly. In essence, the module consists of an assignment to interview an entrepreneur, and to draw lessons from that story and apply them to an own learning path. The experiences of the entrepreneurs can provide insight into where things may go wrong in the development of a company and how this can be translated into future actions.

As an entrepreneurship student it is important to become aware that entrepreneurship is not a bed of roses and especially to learn how to deal with this. Students have the opportunity to learn more about innovation processes, developments in an economic sector and expanding a business network. Whether students want to become entrepreneurs themselves, or will support entrepreneurs in the future, the stories of entrepreneurs themselves help to develop a realistic picture of an entrepreneur's life. We advise students to start with their family when looking for a potential story and ask whether they know some who had gone through bad times. Then, extend the search towards friends or acquaintances who may know someone who has gone bankrupt in their environment or who have faced serious setbacks. Local newspapers often provide information as well.

In consultation with the AUAS research leaders, the module can be obtained by e-mail. It will then be determined how the module can be adapted and how the AUAS can support the implementation. The condition is that the AUAS is named as developer of the Fenix Module.

The knowledge and expertise built up over the past few years has been translated into images, illustrations and assignments. An example of a workshop for teachers and business advisors can be found here:
Blog ECSB.

A presentation or workshop can be tailor-made in consultation with the AUAS research team on the following topics:

The content of failure and restart:

  • Definitions of Failure, Agility and Recovery
  • Early detection and crisis prevention
  • Role of the entrepreneur and of other important actors in the area

Vicarious Learning – Learning from stories from others:

  • Theory of learning from someone else's experience
  • Patterns from stories of failure and restart
  • Applying this method to other themes

Conducting qualitative research:

  • Conduct an interview: how do you do that and what do you need to do in preparation
  • Protocols for transcribing: what does that mean
  • Protocols to anonymize: what to anonymize and what not

We started a database in 2017 with more than 1,100 stories collected by students who participated in this project. The transcripts made from the interviews were anonymized and coded. The GDPR guidelines have been followed to protect the identity of entrepreneurs and students. Examples of the declaration of consent and protocol to anonymize are available as part of the education module.

We have the database available for research purposes. You can request to view and edit the data by e-mail to Ingrid Wakkee, AUAS lecturer in Entrepreneurship. In the past period, not only researchers but also students have used the data to conduct research in their final year projects.

The stories collect the following information:

  • Personal features of the entrepreneur
  • Company background and industry
  • Description of the setbacks and the recovery process
  • People who have been involved in the network of the entrepreneur
  • Lessons as specified by the entrepreneur


  • Alvarado Valenzuela J.F., Blagburn N., Martens J. 2021. Project Fenix. ISBN 9789491371400

Scientific Articles

The data from project Fenix offers many possibilities for students who want to do research before writing their bachelor's or master's thesis. When students want to use the data for this, they are supervised by the researchers of project Fenix. In recent years, various studies have been conducted by students from the AUAS, AMSIB and the Vrije University Amsterdam.

In recent years we have collaborated with the following parties:

Inside the AUAS:

  • Creative Business Program – Faculty of Digital Media and Creative Industry in the specialization Media entrepreneurship together with Annemieke Boer.
  • Commercial Economic Program – Faculty of Business en Economics in the Entrepreneurship Track together with Stefan Molenaars, Pere Guanter en Zouhair Ben Abdelkarim.
  • Sport, Management en Entrepreneurship Program – Faculty of Sports and Nutrition together with the team led by Wilko de Graaf and in close contact with Jet van der Werf

Outside the AUAS:

Presentation on the 'Gala van de Wetenschap'

In 2019, at the Gala of Science, we spoke about failure and restarting entrepreneurs and shared our experiences with project Fenix. We presented our insights about the importance of practice-oriented research in entrepreneurship and resilience of entrepreneurship on the basis of this project. See the short summary (video in Dutch):

Project Fenix - Gala van de Wetenschap

Published by  Entrepreneurship Ondernemerschap 14 August 2023