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Slush: The Nordic startup madhouse

If you are inclined to believe the closing party of Sibos is a little too heavy, too boozy and a bit silly, I implore you not to attend Slush. You might have a heart attack.  

Even considering the drunken-banker antics of Sibos after dark, I would still consider it a family-friendly affair in comparison to this 12,000-strong Nordic startup-madhouse named after the wintery mixture of snow, mud and water which surrounds it.

In between the laser shows, smoke machines and eardrum-busting dubstep soundtracks you will be surprised to find it hosts a conference on startups in the Nordics region. A punter at the pre-party tells me that Slush is partly organised by a team of people who usually do music festivals. The closing party and its 10 simultaneous DJs all but confirm this rumour. 

The sign adorning the main entrance reads ‘This is not the conference you are looking for’. It’s partially tongue-in-cheek and partially true. It wasn’t the conference I was looking for. No fresh-brewed Italian coffee and sandwiches for delegates here, instead spotty-faced teenage ushers wearing skinny jeans and beanie hats offer you canned energy drinks to sip while you peruse endless startup demo stands.

It’s a predictable but entertaining roster for the speaking slots - VCs, entrepreneurs and startup success stories grace the stage with their own entrance music and light show. I saw the likes of Spotify, Supercell (of ‘Clash of Clans’ fame and the region’s current heart-throb) and Nokia/Microsoft (the fallen-from-grace yet national treasure) all take the stage.

I’m surprised by Slush’s almost comically skewed agenda. Despite sectioning the agenda off into B2B/B2C/Education/Healthcare and Gaming - it is the latter which dominates the entire conference. Along with the numerous mobile game startups showcasing their products - there’s a separate ‘gaming room’ for them too. The region appears to be besotted with mobile games - following the success of Rovio’s Angry Birds and Supercell’s Clash of Clans, I suspect. 

I have to research and plan meticulously to find the financial services startups attending. I meet with between 10 and 20 fintech startups over the course of one day and I suspect in the 1000 that attended, I pretty much covered the FS collective. 

On the whole they are in awe (first-timers especially) and a little ambivalent (what is there to gain here?). I am impressed with IroFit, a Nigerian-based mobile payments outfit that can operate on the GSM network (a colleague jests there’s black spots in the City of London which could stand to benefit from that technology). Operating in a similar capacity is Helsinki’s Mistral Mobile - which looks to tap the ever-expanding agent banking market with a similar GSM-based transaction network. 

Slush is an interesting affair - half conference, half party. Is it what the punters want? I didn’t do a full survey of delegate satisfcation but the sheer number of empty energy drinks strewn across the conference floor tells me people had a good time. 


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