Slush, saunas and startups

Slush Finland 2017

writer icon Jonathan Burns     Jonathan Burns   |   Tech     🕐 06. Dec. 2017

Slush 2017 was organised perfectly. It set the standard for tech conferences around the world. Upon arrival, I was greeted at the airport by badge stations within the terminals, along with friendly Finns doling out public transit passes that enabled citywide transit during the event. Showing the efficiency common in any Nordic endeavour, before leaving the airport I already had all that I needed to get me anywhere in the city and then through the doors once I got there.

On walking into the arena on the first day, the sheer size of the convention threatens to overwhelm you. I was there early to avoid the rush, and I was still shocked by how many people, booths and presentations there were. The first speaker to kick off the event was ex-vice President of the United States, Al Gore. His speech had a tone of optimism about what startups will do to shape the future, keeping close to his environmental concerns with a theme of working at something that is positive for the world. Speakers ranged from founders that have built companies whose services we use everyday for things like project management, to those working on future technologies like flying cars.

By the second day, I understood the layout and could easily make my way from a planned meeting to a speaker, with a few stops at interesting product booths or for a few elevator pitches along the way. The hundreds of booths and exhibits that filled the space between stages were all vying for attention, some more successfully than others. Giveaways, games and gimmicks were used to get people to line up and ask questions, and any company with a booth that did not go the extra mile risked gaps in the crowd. With lasers and big screens everywhere, your eyes soon became numb to the visual overload.

The trends were obvious at Slush 2017, and no one would argue that AR and VR were not centre-stage. So too were buzzwords like 'machine learning' and 'artificial intelligence' - both thrown around on stage with little explanation as to how anything was 'learning' or 'intelligent.'

With all the excitement and networking going on, it was easy to have a lingering feeling that you were missing something - often because you were. There were endless opportunities to see successful and passionate speakers, to network with possible investors or to learn about new tech. Thankfully they had saunas. The traditional Finnish saunas on site were a highlight of the event - a welcome relief from bouncing around between stages and booths. Elevator pitches in the near nude were a new level of presenting startup ideas that I personally recommend.

Slush cannot be described without also discussing the side events and after-parties. During the day, people had their guard up and presentations ready while at night, after a few visits to the open bar, people’s approach to business was more jovial and occasionally more honest. There were just as many opportunities to exchange business cards and Linkedin profiles in the after hours as during the day -but I would recommend leaving the drinks alone until after any contracts are signed.

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