Finnish ‘Slush’ front runner event debuts in Singapore

When Slush for the first time entered China and Beijing in 2015 to encourage Chinese entrepreneurs the Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipilä attended. That speaks volumes about this grassroots event from Finland, whose annual main event these days draw around 15 000 visitors from worldwide!

Slush is organized by a non-profit community to allow the next generation of great companies to have the ecosystem they deserve to succeed on a global level. It is built for entrepreneurs by entrepreneurs, and it is meant for growth companies of all stages and industries. Slush brings the relevant investors and start-ups to the same place and makes sure that the right start-ups meet the right investors in one-on-one meetings.

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Meanwhile, Slush also has a reputation of being very different from ordinary tech conferences. As Slush is arriving also to Singapore there is plenty of excitement around it and ScandAsia talks to Anna Ratala, an entrepreneur who is behind the steering wheel of Slush Singapore.

“Anybody who has heard of Slush before gets very excited that it’s coming to Singapore. We have so many people not just from Southeast Asia but also from the Nordics, USA, Russia and the rest of Asia coming to attend,” says Anna, who last spring jumped into conversations about possibly organizing Slush in Singapore, her base, as well.

“I thought that if I had the possibility to be involved in something like Slush and help bring this whole culture of celebrating start-ups and entrepreneurship to Singapore together with the local community – then I definitely wanted to do it. And here we are!”

To introduce the Finn, she runs PineCone, which helps international technology companies to take the first steps in new markets in Southeast Asia, helping them with sales and bringing in their first clients in the region.

She arrived to Singapore with her husband five and half years ago and first worked with Meltwater, a Norwegian-originated SaaS company, running one of its Southeast Asia sales teams. In that capacity she really got to know this scattered region’s diverse business cultures.

The experience then formed the basis for starting her company.

I realized that my strength is actually in sales and in the ability to connect the overseas companies to SEA. I have gone through the pain of doing business in the region as a new-comer and it’s not easy, so I want to help other companies have an easier start when expanding to SEA, and I want to do it with a very strong sales focus.

“There are all kinds of experts on marketing, research and markets, but someone’s got to do the actual work and close some business. And if you are situated in Finland, Sweden or elsewhere and have zero experience from the market here, how are you going to do it? That is the problem PineCone is solving.”

Slush-Anna-Ratala2Currently, however, it is all about Slush for Anna. This non-profit has been growing very organically and from-the-ground-up, and is still very much focused on volunteers and students. It began back in 2008 when some entrepreneurs learned that very few students wanted to start their own business. They had thought: ‘Maybe we should do something about it; let’s get together and talk about entrepreneurship and interesting start-ups.’ Thus Slush was born.

“Back in Finland Slush now has a core team working throughout the year to put all the bits and pieces together. But still the majority of that whole organization comes from the volunteers, consisting of students, entrepreneurs and other people coming together wanting to do something for the start-up scene, which is pretty remarkable.”

“Slush is a global movement; more than an event it’s a mind-set. The reason why it has become so successful and makes waves in so many countries is that it’s heavily community-led; you have to co-create the event to truly be a part of it and that is exactly what Slush does. So the students who are your future entrepreneurs, current entrepreneurs and anyone else who really wants to be part of the party come together and co-create Slush. The power of doing things together is amazing!”

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What Anna also finds quite striking is how in the past years Slush has really been able to shift the mind-set towards entrepreneurship in Finland.

“Eight years ago being an entrepreneur was not really a thing in Finland or many other countries as well. It was not like everyone wanted to do it. Today more people are open to take the entrepreneurial risk and they see what it can do; actually something that might start small can grow into something big. And we have some very nice success stories from Finland that have done that, like Supercell and others.”

Now Slush, with the help of almost 200 local volunteers, are out to build this kind of culture also in Singapore, so that this Slush community can do other things together once the event is over.

“I really believe the community that is involved in creating Slush Singapore will only grow and continue to stay active also in-between the events, based on what we’ve seen so far and the strong interest from volunteers. It’s super encouraging because we don’t want to simply do another event – we want to create something bigger than that, we want to create a movement.”

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Crucially, Slush Singapore is also partnering with the Singapore government’s National Research Foundation (NRF), as its Techventure, in partnership with Slush Singapore, is an anchor event under the inaugural Singapore Week of Innovation & TeCHnology (SWITCH), a new ‘Tech Week’ concept that brings together partners in the technology, innovation and enterprise ecosystem in a series of complementary events in Singapore.

Techventure, in its 20th year running, is a major innovation and enterprise event organised by the NRF and by partnering with Slush Singapore, it will showcase Singapore’s vibrant innovation and enterprise ecosystem to the international community. This year’s theme is about technology and future creation, the changing economy and reinventing education.

“We are actually bringing the grounds-up approach of Slush to shake up the traditional tech conference aspect of Techventure. It does not make sense for the government to organize these events for the start-ups because only start-ups know where they are going. Rather, the start-ups should lead the way in building the eco system and the government should support. We are very fortunate for our great collaboration with NRF so far and are looking forward to seeing how we can together help start-ups succeed in Singapore and in the region.

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Photo: Tatsutoshi Okuda

Being the central hub for start-ups and established companies that are interested in emerging technology, Slush can be a great support when starting up a new company. And enterprises meet the tech of tomorrow.

“They can come to look for example for the talent in the region, as we are inviting a lot of the start-ups from across Southeast Asia. If you are looking for the next big thing, if you are looking for talent to maybe expand into a particular area, Slush Singapore is the perfect platform. With regards to the Nordic companies it would be quite fun to see some kind of collaboration as well. Maybe next year for Slush Singapore there could be a pre-event organized by some Nordic corporations, reaching out to the region here, sort of stand united as: Hey we are Nordics.”

“The look and feel is definitely going to be very Slush, a cool vibe with a local Singaporean twist,” promises Anna. You basically come to a different world. If you would close your eyes and then wake up in Slush you would not understand it’s a tech event – it’s just something beyond. And people are very engaged and interact with each other – because they actually want to be there. They want to be part of something that is greater than an event. That’s the great thing about Slush, it’s more than an event; it’s a mind-set. You’ve got to experience it to really understand it.”

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Photo: Sami Välikangas

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