Slush is braced for more investors, more money, more startups

A fixture on the events scene since 2008, this year Slush is back - and everything's bigger than before.

File picture from Slush 2017 / Credit: Kai Kuusisto, Slush Media

Four years ago Andreas Saari was standing in a shipping container, checking names on a list and handing out passes to Slush participants.

Fast forward to next week, and he’ll be taking centre stage at Slush 2018 as the annual tech event’s CEO.

Just like his predecessors, he’ll most probably use Slush as a springboard to other ventures. And that’s just the way it’s supposed to be.

File picture of Slush CEO Andreas Saari / Credit: @AndreasSaari Twitter

“An important part of Slush still is this talent acceleration that is there for the team. It’s probably forever going to be a pretty fast turnover for all positions. I’m probably not going to stay here for ten years. That would be a failure. Absolutely. But it’s an interesting definition of failure” he tells News Now Finland.

Every Slush CEO in the last five years has been saying their event is bigger and better than the year before. It would be a cliché if it weren’t true.

This year there’s 3000 startups registered, more than ever before. Hundreds of side events. A continued global outreach especially to Asia that continues throughout the year. Parties, meetings, matchmaking, spending, investing, connections and 20,000 attendees at Helsinki’s Messukeskus for the two main days.

Andreas Saari says it seems to be getting easier to attract people to Helsinki during the most grim part of the year, especially those willing to open their wallets with investment cash.

“We have a record number of investors going, it has actually been quite a steady growth over the past couple of years. Always a couple of hundred more per year” he says, in a busy Helsinki coffee shop on a Saturday afternoon between meetings.

“I think the main driver for that is just a greater number of Finnish startups, to be honest, that pop out during the year. And then the other thing that drives it for sure is that Slush has somehow become this place to meet, the place to gather”.

Meeting in progress at Slush 2017 / Credit: Jussi Ratilainen, Slush Media

Startups become a part of Finnish society

The idea that Slush has become an ‘inevitable’ fixture on the calendar seems to have grown at the same pace the idea of startups – especially tech startups – and entrepreneurship has become just an everyday part of what Finland does.

“It is all starting to increasingly become part of the fabric of society. In Finland it’s a big part of the economy, especially looking to the upcoming five or ten years” says Saari.

From very modest beginnings in 2008, Slush has become this behemoth event. An annual juggernaut that rolls along throughout the year to its late autumn climax. But over the years there’s arguably a rift opened up between those small time entrepreneurs, and the increasingly visible big brands that take up the central spots at the convention centre.

“It’s an interesting trade-off” Saari concedes.

Slush has purposefully kept the startup ticket price low – it hasn’t increased for several years – but they increased other ticket prices and needed to partner with big international corporations to finance the event, and attract the best and boldest from the world of business.

“Maybe the focus has shifted away from one guy with an idea, but that’s due to the fact that most Finnish startups are no longer at that stage. The ones for whom it is relevant to look for funding, clients or partners, to look for people to hire, usually those ones are just one notch ahead” Saari explains.

This year early stage companies are still the biggest single group at Slush, but you can’t fail to notice the big brands either. Though even their presence has evolved.

“What we’ve done with Elisa and Porsche the German automaker is that they no longer measure success at Slush by the amount of square metres, or the flashiness about the amount of lights or the logos at their booth, but rather by the number of meetings they have with startups. So we’re pushing the collaboration format that we have” he says.

Booths at Slush 2017 / Credit: Jussi Hellsten, Slush Media

Planning for the next Slush CEO

Almost as soon as next week’s extravaganza is over, the team will get together and start planning for 2019.

As with his predecessors, Saari may or may not continue as CEO, but he says there’s no preconceived notion of who could lead Slush in the future.

“It’s definitely not necessarily a business student, or a tech student. It’s definitely not necessarily a Finn” he says.

“The kid who’s going to replace me, five years from now, ten years from now, they can be doing anything”.

The next CEO might even be standing in a shipping container, checking names on a list and handing out passes to participants at this year’s Slush.