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Polar Bear Pitching keeps its cool with virtual event

The outdoor ice hole is empty this year. Instead of dipping into the freezing water, everyone can attend and share their freezing moments online at this year’s Polar Bear Pitching.Polar Bear Pitching

Looking for a good example of Finnish sisu? This year’s Polar Bear Pitching goes on virtually after the physical event froze only days before it was to take place.

When the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the cancellation of this year’s Polar Bear Pitching event a week before it was set to take place, founder Mia Kemppaala found herself in a familiar headspace.

“This was not the first time we were faced with a literal freezing moment,” she recalls after months of planning was put on ice. “We in Oulu were born in the pool that was left behind when the Nokia’s mobile phone business froze.”

First held in 2014, the annual event was conceived after the telecommunications giant’s plummeting fortunes threatened to derail Oulu’s economy. The solution: bring startups and investors from around the world to attend a pitching competition held in a hole carved in the frozen Baltic Sea. Promoting the quirky and unusual worked: the event has grown into a global showcase of startup innovation, attracting international press including The Times, TheGuardian, TechCrunch, Al Jazeera, South China Morning Post and AFP.

Seven days ago, this all screeched to a halt.

“We realised it’s over only if we let fear guide us and refuse to act,” says Mia Kemppaala, the founder of Polar Bear Pitching. Image: Polar Bear Pitching

But like with every dark cloud, a silver lining wasn’t far away.

“Having ice-cold water in our DNA helps, because we know that in order to survive we need to act fast,” Kemppaala tells. “We decided to bounce back and change our perspective.”

Taking the plunge

Polar Bear Pitching has been reborn as a virtual event, held on the original date of 12 March. Created in just seven days, the event offers matchmaking and keynote speeches delivered via the Brella networking tool, as well as a press conference.

The organisers have promised a show that includes a recap of previous years, along with a live stream of entrepreneurs participating either located in icy water of the Oulu River or virtually from Estonia, Finland, India, Israel, Japan, Sweden and the UK.

“Let’s use this as an opportunity to meet like-minded people, rethink not only events, but all kinds of freezing moments,” Kemppaala announces. “Perhaps we can create a virtual snowball effect that spreads across the globe and inspires people to take action when the going gets tough during all those unpleasant freezing moments.”

By: Tuomas Koivisto