Outside view to Messukeskus ("fair center") where the Slush 2018 startup and technology event is held in Helsinki, Finland, on December 4, 2018


Slush 2018 is just over. 3 100 Startups, 1 800 investors, 20 000 attendees and hundreds of journalists from over 90 different counties arrived in the cold, grey and slushy Helsinki this week, to pitch, meet, discuss and showcase their world changing inventions. The exhibitors of the two day startup and tech event were diverse as usual, from billion dollar companies like the new Chinese electric car builder Neo and Spotify which just made a successful IPO, to small teams of hopeful entrepreneurs looking for investment in order to take their ideas global. Big established companies were there to catch up with the startup culture and attract new talent.

Slush has grown fast since it was established some 10 years ago and spread to three other far eastern countries. Slush Tokyo, Singapore and Shanghai together with the mother event in Helsinki gather around 40 000 people. The concept is non-profit and the motto is “for entrepreneurs by entrepreneurs”

Many of the attendees saw this year’s Slush as more clinical and stripped from excitement. One of the commonly heard critics was the exaggerated and central presence of big corporations at the  cost of startups, which were cramped in a corridor in the middle. The neon sign designating the row of small booths and tables as “The Heart of Slush” was little comfort for those who wanted to see the startups shine and take a more central stage.

One of the most essential elements of Slush every year is the Slush 100 Pitch, where every startup can present its idea and a panel of judges who are also mostly investors or successful entrepreneurs decide on the finalists and later on the winner of the whole competition. The winner usually gets a cash prize and free service packages from insurance and law firms, and of course a much better chance with the investors. This year’s pitching competition also lacked steam. Hard to say if it was the judges who picked the wrong startups by for example giving too much value to the way the ideas were presented at the  expense of the core idea and its execution, or lack of exciting and super-innovative competitors. The winner, a software company which has built a software for software developers to check on their AI modelling was hard to get excited about for general public. 

Speakers and the themes were also somehow a repetition of earlier years, nothing you wouldn’t find on Youtube or Ted talks. having said these, the event is still definitely worth attending. The passionate innovation vibe is contagious and the networking value is priceless. In fact a large area of the exhibition hall was dedicated to matchmaking and thousands of meetings between startups and investors took place during the 2 days, even though the matchmaking app was published later than usual, i.e. just a few days before the event. A sauna village also kept attendees warm in the zero degree Helsinki weather. 

Slush still definitely works its magic as a gathering and networking event, but the organisers must shake loose the old skin and innovate if they want to keep the program and talks also worthy of attention and applause.

Alexis Kouros - HT

Image: Lehtikuva