February 15, 2016

Startups face the freeze at Polar Bear Pitching

Polar Bear Pitching in Northern Finland sees startup entrepreneurs take turns to jump in an ice hole and sell their business idea to a jury of industry experts and investors.
Polar Bear Pitching in Northern Finland sees startup entrepreneurs take turns to jump in an ice hole and sell their business idea to a jury of industry experts and investors.
Henri Luoma / Polar Bear Pitching

Polar Bear Pitching competition puts early stage startups, and their sales skills, to the test in icy water.

Finns seem to love everything related to winter and snow and this is taken to the extremes at the ‘coolest startup competition in the world’. The aptly named Polar Bear Pitching sees startup entrepreneurs take turns to jump in an ice hole and sell their business idea to a jury of industry experts and investors.

This year 20 pre-selected finalists took on the challenge of freezing water in Oulu, Northern Finland, where the event took place last week.

The Polar Bear Pitching competition was opened by both the US and Canadian ambassadors to Finland taking a dip in the icy water. Canadian ambassador Andrée Noëlle Cooligan pictured.

The Polar Bear Pitching competition was opened by both the US and Canadian ambassadors to Finland taking a dip in the icy water. Canadian ambassador Andrée Noëlle Cooligan pictured.

Kaisu Koskelin

“I was thinking this is your moment, better do it well. There was almost one blackout moment [of not remembering what to say], but you just have remember to breathe calmly,“ laughs Tuija Kauppinen, who was the first finalist to brave the hole cut in the sea ice.

Kauppinen kept her cool and spent over two minutes in the water presenting her company Arctic Warriors, that is tapping into the superfood trend with a series of gel shots for energy, endurance and improving resistance to colds. All products are made out of Arctic berries and herbs, such as nettle and roseroot, without any artificial ingredients.

While the shots are already sold by 300 retailers in Finland, Arctic Warriors is now starting to look at international markets which attracted Kauppinen to Polar Bear Pitching. In addition to networking opportunities at the event itself, the competition was live streamed to international audiences and event studios organised by startup communities in 11 countries, including Cambodia and Gambia.

Early stage innovation

Now in its third year, Polar Bear Pitching has expanded to a two day event with Arctic team races (such as husky rides and skiing) and workshops in addition to the pitching competition. The event is targeted at early stage startups ranging from new concepts to companies looking for their first seed funding round.

CEO Miia Liesegang braved the elements to present Belightful’s designer butterfly feeder.

CEO Miia Liesegang braved the elements to present Belightful’s designer butterfly feeder.

Eeva Haaramo

A case in example is Oulu-based Cube 3.3. The startup was founded a year ago on the realisation of the growing need for affordable temporary housing, not only in ever expanding cities but in crises areas. Cube 3.3’s answer has been to design a modular, movable microhouse made out of seamless composites and a durable, safe emergency shelter with an elevated floor.

“We have the prototypes ready and are testing them in outdoor use,” says Tomi Kapanen, CEO at Cube 3.3. “Now we are looking for funding and partners.”

Both the startup’s products are cost-efficient and easy to transport. Potential usages include building sites and refugee camps, basically anywhere barracks or tents are now used.

At a similar stage is another Finnish finalist looking to solve a topical problem, Fineria Energy. It is building a hybrid generator which offers a sustainable and reliable power supply aimed primarily at developing countries where lack of electricity is a frequent problem.

The generator will have an inbuilt energy storage system, a plugin possibility for multiple energy sources and a controller which enables power usage optimisation.

“At the moment we have the software and we have the controllers which are the brains of the whole machine, but not the components yet,” explains Jani Leirimaa from Fineria.

The startup, which was founded by a team of university students, saw Polar Bear Pitching as a great opportunity to find partners to help finalise and internationalise the product. Fineria will initially target Nigeria, where three of its founders were born.

Winning flip

But Polar Bear Pitching isn’t only for Finnish companies. In fact, the furthest startup application came for Kenya while the winning pitch was by Norwegian Flowmotion Technologies. The startup took home a 10 000 euro cash prize and a professional services package of the same value.

Flowmotion impressed the jury not only with a backflip into the icy water, performed by its VP of Marketing Didrik Dimmen, but by promising to get rid of shaky videos. Behind this is Flowstick, a robust motorised stabiliser for Go Pro cameras for which the startup will soon launch a crowdfunding campaign.

“Flowmotion’s pitch was very successful both in its content and the performance. It convinced from the first seconds and immediately captured the attention of the jury,“ says Mikael Pajunen, chairman of the competition jury and founder of the Catapult incubator. “All twenty pitches showed amazing attitude.”

With plans already in place for next year’s event it is time to start practising that attitude. Leirimaa is happy to share the secret to his own training: “[The pitching] was actually easier than I thought. I practiced by filling my bathtub with water and snow which was much worse than this.”

Norwegian Flowmotion Technologies took home the first prize at this year’s Polar Polar Bear Pitching competition.The startup has developed a stabilising device for Go Pro cameras.

Norwegian Flowmotion Technologies took home the first prize at this year’s Polar Polar Bear Pitching competition.The startup has developed a stabilising device for Go Pro cameras.

Kaisu Koskelin

Text: Eeva Haaramo

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