SLUSH: Is Web Summit’s big rival a must-attend for tech start-ups?

CrowdIt's Sam Amrani flew to Helsinki to check out the fast-growing event for tech start-ups. He gives the lowdown and whether it should be in your diary

We attended SLUSH, a conference that is held immediately after Web Summit in Dublin for the first time this year, and after many comparisons to the aforementioned conference, we were keen to see how things stacked up.

SLUSH is a conference which has taken place in Helsinki every year for the past seven years. It’s a not-for-profit conference with clear ethics on how they think a conference like this should be conducted.

The focus is for technology start-ups to meet new people and make meaningful connections, but these are usually investors. Yes, as many people concur, SLUSH is predominantly focused on bringing together start-ups with investors.

The conference couldn’t have a more different feel to Web Summit, in everything from the layout, the program and the style of the event.

So I think it’s fair to say the comparison should stop there. The only thing they really share is the fact they’re focused on start-up tech companies and the events both take place in November.

Grandstand speakers and show-stopping effects

Upon entering the hall, it certainly does feel daunting. Rather than having separate large rooms like most conferences, the team at SLUSH have deliberately left the entire conference centre open.

SLUSH-event-2

Lit fairly dimly with the effects of a light smoke machine filling the hall, it really does feel quite surreal. Each corner of the hall is occupied by the various stages (silver, green, black and machine) and interestingly, the sound manages to not overlap – either luck or some masterful engineering going on there.

The production is fantastic. From the lighting, to the music through to the VTs when a speaker is coming on stage makes the audience feel they’re in for something special. Each guest speaker is greeted with a very sci-fi video where they’re removed from a ‘pod’ and placed onto the stage – it’s very attention-grabbing. Overall, the speakers were impressive. From Niklas Zennstrom, the founder of Skype, through to the chief information officer (CIO) of Estonia, the talks are varied but largely entertaining.

In the middle of the conference you’ll find two large islands, with a raised ground floor and a smaller mezzanine level, which are filled with investors who are all busy conducting meetings that are largely arranged through SLUSH’s new matchmaking tool – a part of their website after registration that lets you book meetings with investors that fit the profile of your company.

Investors, exhibitions and night-time networking

We were lucky enough to have over 15 meetings booked over the two days with top VCs, and have made some especially meaningful relationships.

The exhibition stands are nice, but as pointed out beforehand these are not really the focus of the conference. One or two stood out, but given the layout of the event it’s hard to really focus on any of the stands that are trying to give their business visibility.

There are also a range of larger, sponsor stands with companies such as Nokia and Tesla showing off their latest innovations.

As with many conferences, the night parties and events are where the real networking happened – and there was no difference with SLUSH. The side events were astounding; taking place across Helsinki there were over 100 of them, all catering for the various audiences that made up the 15,000 attendees.

Of the ones we attended, we were blown away by the energy and the opportunity for collaboration and further discussion that was created.

Tickets are very cheap for start-ups (sub €300 for early tickets) and we think it was worth every penny. I’ll certainly be braving the -3 temperatures next year where I hope CrowdIt will have conquered Helsinki and will be a key nightlife partner for SLUSH. Here’s to 2016!

Sam Amrani is the founder of social nightlife app CrowdIt: www.crowditapp.com

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