SLUSH in Helsinki – The most founder focused event in Europe! …that’s my opinion, anyway.
The truth is, I didn’t know about Slush. Looking back, I have no idea how that’s even possible but it was earlier this year in August when my friend Stina, the Director of 500 Startups Nordics told me about it: ‘’Probably the best place to find investment, if that’s what you are after’’ she claimed.
I had to do a bit of thinking: we’ve been to CeBIT in Hannover earlier this year, to South Summit in Madrid and I was invited to speak at the WebSummit in Lisbon. Backed by the EU Commission, the German and Spanish trips were both paid for (which helps, when you are a bootstrapped startup) but the WebSummit was going to cost us money. And so was Slush.
But let me pause this for a moment and give you a little bit of insight into us, the company our founders, and our thinking regarding startup conferences. Both of us founded events that gathered people, both in the tech world and the music world. We understand how to create value but also what sort of value these events create. We knew we should probably stay home. We stopped going to events, personally, I learned how to say no and overall we slowly but decisively started moving away from the startup bubble. Conferences are great fun and great for strengthening your brand: if you can couple the trip with a keynote or a panel or two, maybe with hiring efforts and overall team building… why not. You might even get to sell. Either way, it will be easier to find worth and it definitely wont be a loss… if you are a scaleup, growing, expanding: you’re after talent and market share.
‘’It’s a non profit event, they really do aim to get you in front of as many investors, corporates or media as possible’’, my friend continued. We made the decision a day later, I pulled out of the WebSummit and applied for a startup pass at Slush.
A few days later we get the news: we qualify as an early stage startup and so the ticket will cost us half as much as we thought (aprox 200 euros less). ‘’That’s a first’’ we think as the news hits the inbox, together with the invite to apply to a few more things. One of them is this competition called Slush 100. I don’t think much about it, I apply and forget about it. Weeks pass with new things arriving into my inbox: a matchmaking tool that gives us instant access to hundreds of investors, angels, VCs and corporates, invitations to small, 10 person roundtables, workshops or private parties. I pass on the party bits, I never go, but I apply to everything else.
‘’Congratulations, you are one of the Slush100 companies. This brings you to the top 6% of all startups participating’’. 2336 startups and about 17,000 people took part in Slush this
Photo credit: Slush
I didn’t quite get it, at first. And then I looked into it, into Slush 100.
— Andreeeeeeeeaaaaaa! (@brandalisms) November 16, 2016
‘’The stars of Slush’’, the presenter boasted, as he invited the first company onto the stage. I don’t know if that was it, but I had meeting after meeting for the two days I was there. I met with Nokia, with their Head of Innovation and Collaboration Ecosystem Finland Procurement. ‘’We want to undertand better how we can work with those innovating’’ she said, opening up an app on her phone ‘’It’s on beta, we will launch it next year’’, she scrolled through the app, telling me about the plans Nokia has and how they are working towards getting startups and corporates together in an effort to facilitate collaboration and… change for the better.
Empathy… and grace. There was a lot of that too, you see, at this event. A lot of humility… which was refreshing to see, as I, for one, am growing tired of all things startup. The reality is that the startup ecosystem is more of a… marketplace. There’s a lot of money to be made in this space, just by selling promises and hope.The open nature of the event, the easy access to investors and corporates had an impact on the overall dynamic of the event. Nobody was watching out for investor badges… because nobody needed to. Hustle was replaced by process and thats something I’ll always gladly pay money for.
Photo credit: Slush
I pitched in Hanover earlier this year. In front of 4 people. 3 were also waiting to pitch. We got a free stand for 3 days, I was on a panel with 2 CEOs of European unicorns and I won a grant awarded to two European female founders. And so we traveled to CeBIT. The European Commission brought us there and I wanted to learn more about H2020. It… made sense. But I knew better.
At Slush I pitched on the stage above… to an audience that felt mature, solid. Mostly investors and corporates. Someone came backstage to talk to me. I received emails right after. We’ve never had so much inbound interest. The only other place that felt this solid was Tel Aviv last year. Unfortunately I can’t compare this to anything in Ireland. I stuck to meetings. As many as I could. And to meeting corporates. I came back with both investment and client opportunities. Some, combined. I attended a round table with a VC that is organising something interesting in Hong Kong next year. And we might just get to power it.
Slush has process, visibility and tools combined. And they work. But Slush has class too. It has its own personality. As an ex festival organiser, Slush felt like home: smoke machines were working 24/7, pumping smoke into the venue. Very few lights, a constant darkness and mist, combined with sound: sludge, drone, pulsating, heavy and skin crawling, short bursts played at even intervals, reminding you to move on,
go, meet and do.
Photo credit: Slush
‘It’s getting a bit too big’’ a few people have told me, asking for my opinion in return. ‘’Well, we had the WebSummit’’ most of my answers would start with. And then I learned about Arctic15.
‘’Arctic15 is a two-days conference that focuses on real business value. We will not just leave you stranded – our team will provide the tools, knowledge and the push needed to get that ROI. To do that, we will have the right people in the room, be the perfect size, and optimise networking to the absolute maximum: The Deal Room, Pre-Event Matchmaking, Ad-Hoc Meetings, Networking Areas, Side Events, Workshops and more’’ – their website
‘’There are no… tourists. You have to own a company, otherwise you can’t take part. We have 2000 people attending and the same number of face to face meetings as Slush has at 17000 people’’. I’m impressed and so I asked for more. I learn about something new they are looking to add to next years event. We talk, we agree we might be able to do something together. In fact, they found me after an article I published on LinkedIn… it was just a coincidence that I was flying to Helsinki two days later. I’m told they also publish CoFounder, the only magazine for the European startup ecosystem. I find it at Slush, on a chair, as I sit down for a few moments between meetings. I realise it features us, opening.io is in it!
Representing Irish Tech in Slush100 (top tier VC selection of early stage companies. 100 out of 2200 startups). Featured in CoFounder Mag. pic.twitter.com/5rbLPwleoM
— Andreeeeeeeeaaaaaa! (@brandalisms) December 1, 2016
Slush was a good decision. We even ended up winning a grant and so the trip was all paid for (shout-out to Ryan Academy). Slush is solid. A couple of thousand volunteers come together every year to make it happen and for all the right reasons, it seems.
Today we celebrate the ending of Slush with the miraculous Slush volunteers. Thank you all 2,300 of you! <3 pic.twitter.com/MJiq4dvb0l
— Slush (@SlushHQ) December 3, 2016
But yes, it is getting bigger. And that seldom means better. I hope the organisers know that. As for us, we will keep looking out for what creates actual value. We sell to enterprises and if these startup events keep coming closer to multinationals… and the other way around, we will probably keep participating. So yes… Helsinki in May 2017 – when Arctic15 is held, might just be it.