Investors descend upon Slush Helsinki

Venture capitalists from around the world come to Slush Helsinki every November to find the best young companies in Northern Europe.

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Venture capitalists from around the world come to Slush Helsinki every November to find the best young companies in Northern Europe.

Francesco De Rubertis is on the prowl. He is thinking about Slush, the largest conference for small, high-tech startup companies in Northern Europe. As a partner in Index Ventures, one of Europe’s most successful venture capital firms, De Rubertis will discover some of the hottest young companies in existence.

“Yes,” he says in the most enigmatic way. “There are several companies that I am eager to meet at Slush.”

Sixty billion euros in venture capital

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Slush Helsinki offers a scene for constant pitches, meetings and networking for startups and investors. Photo courtesy of Slush Helsinki

Slush has exploded in popularity in just a couple of years. It grew out of Aalto University and Startup Sauna, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to promoting entrepreneurship. In 2012 Slush attracted some 3,500 attendees from 550 companies and 250 investors over the two-day event. In 2014 the number of attendees surpassed 14,000.

De Rubertis says there are good reasons for him flying in to Finland from his base in London.

“Slush offers a concentrated top-level network and networking opportunity you can’t find elsewhere,” he says. “Events like this are very important for Index Ventures.”

Many of the world’s top venture capitalists agree. Silicon Valley’s Accel Partners, which were early investors in Facebook, are regular attendees. BlueRun, which had success with their investment in Paypal, also comes to Helsinki for the event. In total, investors with about 60 billion euros in venture capital come to Slush.

Investors like De Rubertis listen to entrepreneur pitches, meet with them one-on-one, and watch presentations in their search for the next Supercell, the phenomenal Finnish gaming company that has been valued at 2.2 billion euros by Japanese investors. Yet while Supercell and Rovio’s Angry Birds have received much attention, there are many other inventive industries at Slush.

“Life sciences is very important in Northern Europe,” De Rubertis explains. “In Finland there is a great tradition of medical devices and instrument manufacturing, in addition to a very sophisticated focus on digital healthcare and consumer healthcare.”

Besides gaming and life sciences companies, Slush attracts startups focusing on software, hardware, cleantech and information security, among others. It all takes place in western Helsinki at Cable Factory, a glorious old industrial property which has been renovated to handle such large events.

Angel investors

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While Rovio and its Angry Birds receive much attention, there are many other inventive companies at Slush. Photo courtesy of Slush Helsinki

Putting together Slush is a weighty endeavour, so organisers have partnered with major firms such as Nokia, Google and Evli Bank.

Head of wealth management Esa Pensala says Evli does not directly invest in companies presenting at Slush, but they are still closely involved. “Many of our clients have found investments at Slush,” he points out. “These are angel investors, so there will be quite a few there looking at startups.”

Angel investing is the term normally used for capital placed in very young companies. Yet those investors at Slush need to worry about more than simply finding a good company.

“We help investors diversify, to make sure the overall risk in their portfolio is correct,” Pensala says. “We help with liquidity matching, so capital needs in the future can be met. We also assist with valuation, and we give advice on taxes and how to structure their ownership.”

Investors come to Helsinki to find those exciting young companies which have sprouted in Finland in recent years, but they need the correct environment to grow and prosper. Luckily Slush has proven to be nurturing.

“Slush is nonprofit,” explains Pensala. “We want to support entrepreneurship, and we can encourage the startup scene with Slush.”

By David J. Cord, November 2013, updated November 2014

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