Slush is a big deal in Helsinki. The population of the city grows by 5% for a few days – quite a big deal! It’s amazing how a pair of young guys turned Slush into the mega event it is today – 7,000 in 2013 to 70,000 3 years later. I can’t quite believe the 25,000 number, but it’s what I heard.
On the non-tech front, it was fascinating how many people talked about a fear of Russia / Putin on their door step. Finland was historically part of the Swedish confederacy until it became part of the Russian Empire in 1809 until its independence in 1917, so it has experience on this front. It wasn’t that the Finns I spoke to fear an incursion by Russia, but simply something bad happening close by –most likely in a Baltic state. Trump’s victory has worsened the fears understandably.
On the tech front it was great to see such activity at the conference. There must have been 1000+ volunteers who wanted to get close to the action and make the place hum efficiently, which it did unlike so many other conferences.
Big names were attracted to visit from VCs (Fred Destin and Nathan Benaich were part of an interesting panel in deep tech investing), LPs (I was lucky enough to meet with Beezer Clarkson from Sapphire) to of course entrepreneurs – the most interesting talk I listened to was by Ambarish Mitra from Blippar. He has an incredible story. He ran away from a middle class home in northern India to Delhi at 15 and then lived in a slum working as an assistant in a tea house before winning a business plan competition for $10k which led to a listing of his business at 20. Augmented reality emerged out of a pub joke, imagining the Queen emerging from a £20 to tell off a barman. Luckily for him the guy he joked with was an Imperial College machine vision engineer who turned the joke into a prototype. Serendipity was one of Ambarish’s key themes.
The start-ups I met in office hours were a mixed bunch– mostly British given our focus, but also non-UK companies relevant to the portfolio. I was impressed with the quality – carefully vetted before arrival of course.
It’s clear that technical and entrepreneurial talent is developed in all corners of Europe, and it is also clear that London is a real hub. It came up in almost every conversation as the place the founders wanted to be. Not just because the market is bigger, but because the competition is fiercer and so to be the best and hire the best, the entrepreneurs feel they have to compete with the best in a major hub – London for Europe.
I feel fortunate to be London-born and –based – it was easy for me to be based here. It’s hard for others to make the move, but I do believe it will help your start-up become world-class. The one fair counter-argument I heard was from one Fintech start-up founded by a trio of Chinese who had done their undergrad studies in the UK. They are moving to Finland because they can start trading without the equivalent of FCA authorisation which is only required once they hit €3m in transactions. At that point authorisation takes 3 months and can be passported to the rest of the EU. A reasonable argument for a start-up with limited resources who had struggled with the FCA in London. The FCA needs to react to this.
All in all a great 24 hours and I’ll be back.
Thank you to Lasse Vuola and the whole team at Castren & Snellman for the invitation. If you’re looking for Finnish lawyers, they are your best bet. The most experience of any Finnish law firm (they are the oldest in the country, founded 1888) and a real focus on startup/investor legal support.