November is a dark time to be in Finland, but it’s certainly not stopping more than 10,000 startup enthusiasts from getting together under one roof to talk, have fun and possibly (hopefully) score a few life-changing handshakes. The occasion is, of course, the latest edition of Slush.
Slush has progressively become one of those major yearly events that’s reached global acknowledgement in the world of startups. It’s grown immensely since it first saw daylight in 2008, up to the point that it’s beating out Helsinki’s 2007 Eurovision song contest as the largest largest technical production in the Nordics.
“It comes from the fact that we want the event to be an experience,” says Miki Kuusi, Director of Slush. “You can see great speakers and get an experience that’s worth coming to.”
Kuusi says their focus was, and still is, the value that companies get out of the event. Their number one focus of Slush is on startups; international investors; more experienced entrepreneurs sharing their knowledge to new ones, but he also points out there has been substantial change in the take-home message of the event.
“In the early years there was a lot of focus in changing the culture”, says Kuusi, referring to negative bias towards entrepreneurship in Finland, as well as in the Nordics in general. “It was a lot about sharing the stories and the lessons that were learned, but that’s in the past. Today Slush is more about practical stuff”.
When it comes to the long-term goals of Slush, Kuusi names a few companies and gives us a few numbers to clarify what he sees as somewhat of an issue that needs to be toppled. Think Linux, Skype, and Spotify, as well as the fact that 26% of Europe’s startup exits come from a region with only 4% of the population. Those things in mind, the Nordics aren’t as much on the map as they ought to be, which is something Slush aims to change for good.
Slush isn’t just about the main conference itself: Slush partakes in organizing over 80 events globally around the year. “We want to understand other ecosystems, and bring their local startups back here”.
One way of doing this is to bring lots of outside players into Helsinki to focus on Nordic startups. “It’s about bringing U.S. investors here. It’s about bringing journalists from Asia. If you’re a nordic company, its the best place in the world to be,” says Kuusi.
Kuusi also points out one of the big advantages of being the yearly “touchpoint” for the Nordic scene: by getting international investors put money into one local company, it’s likely they’ll also move into more. It all comes down to logistics – if you’re going to sit on a company’s board, you’ll need to fly over at least a couple times a year. These investors are looking for more investment opportunities in the region to make their trips worthwhile.
Looking at speakers, Slush is bringing in names like Hiroshi Mikitani the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Rakuten (one of the worlds largest internet companies) and closer to home, names like Martin Lorentzon, Co-founder of Tradedoubler and co-founder and chairman of Spotify; and Mikkel Svanne, co-founder and CEO of Zendesk. Last year the event hosted 180 VC funds, with expectations for more this year already clear.
To date over 1,000 companies have registered to attend Slush, with late-bird registration still available.