Digital Skills Academy
Got the Web Summit blues? Slush, a new startup conference, may be the cure

Got the Web Summit blues? Slush, a new startup conference, may be the cure

Slush took place in Helsinki, Finland from November 30th – 1st December 2016

There are many interesting events aimed at helping startups grow their businesses and finding the right mentors and investors to achieve their business goals. Over the past 12 months we have visited a number of such events, both in Europe and further afield. While some events focus solely on attendance numbers, others are more focused on generating the highest quality interactions as possible.

After our recent visit to Helsinki for Slush we certainly came back with the view that this event aims to deliver the most value possible for startups and attendees in general.

Firstly, we spoke to Andreea Wade, the CEO of a new Irish company, Opening.io. We asked her why she chose to take her startup pitch to Helsinki rather than Lisbon in the cold month of November. Andreea was so inspired by her experience she wrote a whole blog post about it under the title “Slush in Helsinki - the most founder centred event in Europe.‘’ Andrea commented to us..."It’s a non profit event, they really do aim to get you in front of as many investors, corporates or media as possible. I pulled out of the WebSummit and applied for a startup pass at Slush.” Her account of the event describes the whole process of how the event organisers worked to help her get the most out of the event for her startup. You can read the whole article here.

Marianne Vikkula, CEO of Slush

This seemed to be something that was integral to the spirit of the event. To find out more we spoke to the CEO of the event, Marianne Vikkula (pictured above). We asked her if they planned to continue growing the size of the event in the future “Our aim after all is not to be the biggest, we want to be able to bring most relevant people together and meet with each other.” We then asked her how they aim to actually help people at their events (both in Helsinki, and now also in Tokyo and Singapore too). “The core service is our online matchmaking tool. The attending startups can request meetings with attending investors, media and execs. This year we had 200 tables in use with full capacity at most of the times.” The focus is very much on the quality of the interactions for all involved, rather than the quantity of people attending the event.

Serial entrepreneur, investor, and Slush committee board member, Timo Ahopelto

We then spoke with Timo Ahopelto, a serial entrepreneur, investor, and now also Slush committee board member, to ask him what tips he would give to startups looking to become successful companies. He explained you need to have “your own vision and action plan, and sticking to it in your own company versus too much listening to outsiders, everyone of course needs advisors and coaching, but ultimately the founder needs to call the shots. Good founders always know what is best for the company.” The great thing about Ahopelto, and a number of other Finnish successful entrepreneurs is their interest in remaining engaged with, and supporting the next generation coming through. We met many other Finnish entrepreneurs, who can have easily retired and never worked again, but were instead looking to mentor and help others to develop their ideas.

 

Pekka Viljakainen, Founder of Skolkovo Foundation

Next we then spoke to Pekka Viljakainen, who after a serious life threatening incident, decided to use the rest of his time, energy and resources to only work on projects he felt were worthwhile, and people who weren’t a##e#oles (you can see his choice of words here). Despite rapid technological advances across the world in all of our lives, Pekka is emphatic that startups realise the importance of finding the right people for your company. “It is very important to work with the right people, and how you select them is important. Twenty years ago people used the mushroom leader approach, ie keep them in the dark and throw shit on them. This approach will no longer work”.

Overall, attending Slush was refreshingly honest, informative and helpful. The event organisers pride themselves on the fact that there are no VIP areas, or select, invitation-only private events. Investors and mentors are specifically there to talk to, and advise startups, rather than being rare and elusive beasts. There are many ways to try and find the right people to help you grow your business, and one November, Helsinki might just be worth checking out for your startup too.