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Slush 2019 has the future covered

2 400 volunteers are on hand at Slush this year.Susanna Lehto

Europe’s leading startup event has matured from a 300-person meetup into the engine driving a global movement influencing the road ahead.

Slush has always been about spectacle, about finding a way to attract changemakers to this corner of the world at the grimmest time of the year. Thus, when this year’s opening ceremony explodes in a symphony of colour and sound, the packed area duly sits up and pays attention.

The event’s goals have remained steadfast since 300 people gathered for the inaugural event in 2008: creating and helping the next generation of ground-breaking entrepreneurs.

The future is also on the mind of Slush CEO Andreas Saari when he takes the stage.

“Entrepreneurs have always been problem solvers,” he states, echoing our recent interview with him, “and the problems are more complex than ever before. Building companies can be one of the most efficient ways of making change in the world.”

25 000 changemakers, including 3 500 startups, 2 000 investors and 700 journalists – and many, many lasers. Slush illuminates the gloom, once again. Image: Susanna Lehto

But why do we still need a big event like this, replete with lights and lasers and the presence of big-name global players? The answer comes to hand: startups who attended last year’s event have since raised 1.5 billion US dollars in a year which saw investments in European tech grow by over 40 per cent.

“Technology doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” Saari continues. “We think that we increasingly need arenas for different parts of society to come together to focus on solutions and not just problems.”

Working for change

Further proof of Slush’s influence on the global stage can be seen in its alumni. Among the over 10 000 people to have played a significant role at Slush over the years are Miki Kuusi, the current head of Wolt, and Linear CEO Karri Saarinen, based these days in San Francisco.

Yet for all the ground-breaking ideas coming to fruition, one important area of business which has seemingly not caught up with the surge of innovation is the working environment itself.

“It feels like the office should be the place where you do your best work; it’s not the case anymore,” Saarinen states. “People don’t have the time to do the work they want to do. I hope the model changes to more distributed or remote work. Or the office space changes to more of a workspace than what it is today, a place for crafting rather than spending time in meetings.”

Maria Ritola (left), the co-founder of Iris.ai, participated in a discussion about growth on a shoestring budget. Image: Susanna Lehto

This also extends to sharing working space with similarly skilled people from other companies

“The office basically hasn’t changed in the past 50 years,” he underlines. “We need to be avoiding meta-work: talking about what we are going to do rather than doing it.”

International comparisons

The event floor is filled with demo booths, presentations and palpable buzz. International stands represent the likes of Japan, India and Russia and, onstage, the focus is on China, whilst still drawing parallels with Slush.

“The first time I attended Slush, Alibaba’s Singles Day generated three billion in total sales,” says John Lindfors, managing partner at DST Global. “Of course, on the 11th of this month they generated 38 billion – 13 times growth in six years. The only thing that comes close to this sort of growth is actually Slush. It has grown in size but also in quality, of companies, investors and dialogue.”

Whilst there is undoubtedly potential for foreign companies in China, John Lindfors is adamant about focusing on companies establishing in their core market before thinking about China. Image: Susanna Lehto

Soon the focus switches once again to looking to the future, addressing issues that affect us all.

“If we look at the problems of health today there are two main problems: cardiovascular and type 2 diabetes,” says Teemu Suna from Nightingale Health. “Together, these two diseases cost more than 40 trillion US dollars per year.”

Underlining the need to build a preventative healthcare system, Suna points out that in order to prevent one needs to predict. He then proceeds to launch the My Nightingale app, bringing world-leading science into everyone’s pockets by communicating all the complexity of your health at the molecular level represented by a simple index.

“Science is saying that if you use the Nightingale blood test, you can predict the future onset of diseases, 10 years before you get them. You can then change your lifestyle, modify your diet and exercise. You can optimise your life and change your destiny.”

The final sentence is an apt summary for the buzz that still fills the event space. The future is now, indeed.

The CEO of VR specialists Glue, Jussi Havu, took the stage basking in the recent news of landing 3.5 million euros in seed funding. Image: Susanna Lehto
By: James O’Sullivan