SFU’s Radius had a sold-out crowd at the Portside Pub in Gastown for their first ever Social Entrepreneur Failure Wake last night. When I first heard about it, I thought that the idea of sharing stories about failed social ventures would be a good source of leads for the blog. I had no idea how educational and inspiring it would be. It was also a lot of fun.

The idea was simple. They would take over a pub, sell tickets, get brand name sponsorship from Vancity, and find some entrepreneurs to tell their stories about how their social ventures had reached their untimely ends.

At the heart of the event was the idea to embrace failure and with it, the rich learning and practical experience that will bring later success. I felt that this mindset aligns well with the practices of Design Thinking and Lean Startup that I have been chronicling in this blog.

Everyone loves a good story and perhaps more than success, a story about failure makes a compelling tale. Tragedy, it seems, captures our attention, but also serves a larger point. The stories contained salient, often emotional, messages about wrong turns and missed opportunities.

First up was a story about Ecotrust Canada’s efforts to build the local economy on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Satnam Manhas told the story of how there was no shellfish processing facilities in the Clayoquot Sound area when Ecotrust began their project to get local processing of shellfish for area residents and resorts. New federal food safety rules resulted in additional expenses for the recently up and running facility, yet the original equity owners were not able to pitch in to cover the unforeseen costs. Other problems mounted and the plant had to close soon thereafter.

Chantelle Buffie and Sonam Swarup

Young entrepreneurs Chantelle Buffie and Sonam Swarup of Fusion Kitchen traded the microphone back and forth as they told their touching story of a classroom project turned social venture. Their idea was to create community and connections for recent immigrants through cooking classes. The cooking classes were a platform for immigrant women to gain work experience, develop their transferable skillsets, and build their self-confidence to increase their employment opportunities in Canada. They had a great series of lessons learned that I only wish I had a pen to note down.

Finally, Grace Sai, founder of Hub Singapore gave a talk about an early mistake she made in her choice of who to partner with. She also spoke movingly of the challenge of balancing vulnerability with showing strength in leadership. I had to laugh when she confessed to the audience that her therapist had asked her, ‘don’t you think that Obama cries sometimes?’

At the conclusion of each presentation, Mike Rowlands of Junxion Strategy threw an Irish accent and delivered elegant toasts as the speakers were offered Jameson Irish Whiskey. It was a playful, yet thoughtful, way to show appreciation to the entrepreneurs for their courage, passion, and reflection.

As I rode my bike home, surprisingly I felt full of inspiration—not despair. Here was a community that would support you, in both your successes and in your failures. What more could you ask for as a social entrepreneur?