Marianne Vikkula has been the CEO of Slush for only a couple of months, although she has been involved in the event in various positions for years. Her time with Slush leaves her with a definite idea of what she is a part of.
“Slush is not an organisation or event. It is a movement,” Vikkula declares. “It is a non-profit community of young people who want to help others in entrepreneurship.”
Slush started as simply an event in 2008, when 300 people gathered in Helsinki to discuss entrepreneurship and technology. Since then the Helsinki event has grown to over 15 000 participants and gained the attention of people all over the world.
These people wondered: if the Finns can do that, why can’t we?
“We haven’t specifically set out to expand internationally,” Vikkula continues. “This is a grass-roots movement. For instance, young entrepreneurs in Tokyo contacted us and said: ‘It sucks to be an entrepreneur here. Everyone expects us to get a job with some big corporation. What can we do to change the culture?’”
The entrepreneur community in Tokyo was rather small and focused almost exclusively on Japan. Slush helped by stressing a global outlook just like they had done in Helsinki. This included using the English language and getting international involvement from speakers, investors and companies.
“The first Slush Tokyo was in April 2015 and it was immediately the biggest international startup event in Japan,” says Vikkula. “Now more events are popping up in Japan which use English and are internationally focused. This is great, but it is a long process. It takes years.”
On to Asia
Asia seems particularly excited about the Slush way of entrepreneurship. Events have been held in China, Singapore and Japan. They follow the successful Slush blueprint of encouraging networking, exchanging ideas, accessing capital and partners, as well as the famous pitching competitions. The events are part conference and part festival (the Slush parties are legendary and are a great place for informal networking).
In 2015 the Chinese event was held in Beijing, but for 2016 it moved to Shanghai. Slush Shanghai opened with 5 000 attendees, including 270 startups, 360 investors, 120 journalists and 500 volunteers from 48 countries. The main organiser, Chen Wang, explained that the entire purpose was to “build bridges between China and the rest of the world.”
The Slush formula has worked very well in Finland, and the organisers are delighted that people throughout the world are making it work for them, too.
“I have no time to rest,” laughs Vikkula. “After the Helsinki event we have Slush Tokyo coming up in March. We had about 40 events in 2016 and there will be more in 2017. Now we want to really focus on our four key communities of Helsinki, Shanghai, Singapore and Tokyo. We want to help them to become bigger and better.”