Sultans of swing – in Slush

You get a shiver in the dark, it’s raining in the park, but meantime: the lazers cut the air in the dark venue at the exhibition center in Helsinki, and the notably heterogeneous crowd seems to flow every direction. Even though the air conditioning keeps up with the crowd surprisingly well, there is a stark contrast between, well, the slushy November weather outdoors and the temperature in Slush. If one had to describe how it would be like inside an ant’s nest, the atmosphere at the Slush 2017  would probably be fairly close.

You step inside but you don’t see too many faces. Honestly, the venue is simply so dark, that it takes a while for the eyes to adjust. In most situations, the size of the name badges every participant has to wear when entering Slush would be a cause of laughter, even embarrassment. But in this particular venue, even the sizable badges are barely readable due to the remarkably dim lighting. At the same time, the darkness makes for a compelling special effect – it sets Slush apart from any and every business forum I have ever attended, closely resembling the atmosphere of a night club instead. But a vast, massive one at that!

There were several stages for the key note speakers inside the venue – the main one called Founder Stage really looked like something Beyonce could get up on at any moment. The light show and the screens around that stage seemed to be short of only pyrotechnics. Most of the stages were set up so that the speaker was at the center, and the information-hungry crowd all around them. From what I could witness, the presentations – or actually many of them were more like interviews, with interviewers coming from the BBC and the like – attracted crowds beyond capacity. Slush is not trying to compete with Nordic Business Forum on the household names as speakers; instead, the speakers here were stars of the business world in one form or another, and as such well known by the initiated. Well, a household sports celebrity was on the agenda: one man who stepped right up to the microphone at Slush was the two-time Formula One world champion Mika Häkkinen.

Most obviously, Slush has managed to establish a globally unique reputation in the start-up scene. Kudos to all the initiators and organizers for that! The diversity of businesses present was borderline unbelievable. The fact that so many embassies had their own stands in the event is a solid testimonial to the importance of Slush as ‘the event’ to be seen in. I came to the same conclusion also with regards to some of the largest Finnish companies that had sizable stands in Slush: they did not necessarily have anything particularly new and exciting to showcase in the event, and they certainly have not qualified as start-ups for decades. However the nature of the event has such a high coolness factor that the established businesses aim to make use of it to perhaps revitalize their company image, particularly in the eyes of fresh talent.

And talent – if anything, the Slush event is full of that. Ranging from the passionate and driven entrepreneurs, to the recognized players as the key note speakers, to the thousands of volunteer workers (typically local students/graduates) making sure that anything and everything runs smoothly. Not forgetting the paying audience, ranging from the investors to the potential customers to the plain curious. Since nearly everybody is there, it comes as no surprise that recruitment is high on the agenda for many of the companies present. Some are looking to attract talent in the event itself – others are counting on Slush presence helping them to plant seeds in the minds of desired target profiles, to enhance future recruitment. To enable valuable encounters, the organizers had also a recruitment app available for the event as a kind of a match-making tool.

I did not come across Guitar George, but the hilarious Windows95 deejay at the Slush-store certainly captured my attention. Not only by the retro music he was playing, but by his appearance and those moves. The shorts… well, let’s not go there.

It will be interesting to see how and where Slush as an event evolves from the current shape. With its various sub-theme events catering to for example music, mobility and science, it is already bringing Helsinki alive in the darkest time of the year. At Slush, they mind. And they make the scene.


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