Al Gore on the Founder Stage at Slush

‘Nothing normal ever changed a damn thing’ is the motto that got me into joining Slush this year on behalf of Komfo. And I wasn’t the only one.

With 20,000 attendees from 130+ countries including 2,600 startups, 1,500 investors, and 600 journalists, it’s clear that Slush is going great guns and it has become the beacon of the developing European tech ecosystem. Here are the key insights that I took back home.

Being part of a tech company with a strong presence in the Nordics and dealing with social media trends and the overall digital landscape on a daily basis are probably good enough reasons to get me interested in Slush. However, with so many other European conferences such as dmexco and WebSummit, why choose Slush in Finland? Here’s what I found out during my first trip to Helsinki:

Pros:

1. The breeding ground for tech startups and investors in Europe

The State of European Tech 2017 by Atomico & Slush, Founder Stage

If you are a startup wanting to pitch your tech ideas or a venture capitalist looking for new industry opportunities, Slush is the intersection point. The numbers speak for themselves: this year, they hosted almost 10,000 meetings between investors and startups. Looking at the official program alone, it was plain to see that building stronger bonds between young companies and investors was one of their main goals. As an attendee, you can take part in everything from pitching sessions, mentoring, roundtable sessions, and panel discussions to matchmaking sessions and 1–1 meetings. All under one roof during the two days of the conference.

2.Easy 1–1 communication

What I often hear from people attending conferences is that, while the lineup and the overall events range from good to outstanding, the actual networking work falls on the shoulders of the participants. Slush has identified the need for eye-to-eye contact in order to build a stronger tech community, so they have invested in building networking spots on-location and creating events such as the Sauna Village and Founders Day where you can meet fellow attendees to share knowledge, help create a stronger community, and ultimately drive business.

3. Everything under one roof

One of the many meeting areas at Slush

The 2017 conference took place at Messukeskus — the Exhibition and Convention Center of Helsinki. The whole experience is immersive: you enter in the morning, spend the whole day in a warm and dark location with neon lights, smoke machines, and indoor fireplaces, and come out hours later without knowing whether it is night or day outside. All the talks, events, and meetings take place here.

4. Value for money

For participants attending from Europe, Helsinki is accessible and easy to navigate. The whole trip to Finland is easier to plan than let’s say, a visit to SXSW in the US, therefore making it a good investment for a bigger team.

Cons:

1. “Winter is coming”

Let’s face it, Finland is probably not the most attractive location for tech conferences in the winter months. As the founders put it, Slush is taking place during “the sh*ttiest weather seasons of the year” in one of Europe’s darkest cities during winter: Helsinki. If taking Instagram-friendly company photos with sunshine and warm light is what you’re after, then WebSummit and SXSW are probably safer choices. If warm weather is not your top priority, then Helsinki is not a bad idea after all.

2. Not the best place to discover all the well-known brands

While many established brands and investors have their own stands at Slush, the exhibition area is not the main focus. The startup stands, as well as the bigger stands from Google, IBM, Accenture and the like, are integrated in the whole setup.

3. Great with all the possibilities, but you need to prepare

With this number of attendees, events, and side-events, the two days at Slush are packed. It’s always a good idea to do your homework and start researching interesting profiles and relevant companies well in advance. At the same time, booking your meetings beforehand also helps with making the most out of your time there and maximizing the value that you get out of your participation.

My top three takeaways

Data is the New Oil

From big data to data lakes and data warehouses, it is clear to see that data has become the main currency and that access to the right data gives companies a clear competitive advantage. At this year’s Slush, talks by Young Sohn, Marten Mickos, Steven Waterhouse (Seven), Andreas M. Antonopoulos, Jutta Steiner, Pamela Morgan revolved around how data has become the catalyst of the new digital economy.

“We are still at the early stage of data explosion:97% of current data is not tagged and only 0.5% of the tagged data is analyzed. There is a huge opportunity for companies to be able to take advantage of the resource of data that is intangible.”
Young Sohn, President & Chief Strategy Officer at Samsung Electronics
Slush presentation: Driving Innovation in the Data Economy by Young Sohn

While it is true that data has become the new commodity and data quantity defines the rules of the competition, the amount of data that a company owns is not the only defining factor for business growth. How we make the best use of our already-available data is both a challenge and an opportunity.

We are witnessing the Golden Age of European Tech

A total capital of $19bn invested into European tech in 2017 marks a new landmark for Europe — that’s what we found out on the first day at Slush from the State of European Tech report. Does this mean that we are witnessing a power balance shift between Europe and Silicon Valley?

An increase of more than $3bn invested per quarter since 2015, 5,5m professional software developers, and 41 European tech companies qualifying as unicorns. That’s what Atomico’s comprehensive record of the evolving European tech ecosystem revealed at Slush. What these facts point out is that the tech landscape needs a strong community and effective communication between organizations to continue its growth journey. European conferences such as Slush, dmexco, WebSummit and the like, as well as the increasing number of tech hubs across Europe’s cities simply show that there there’s a long-term investment trend where the humans behind European tech are the ones that shape Europe’s economy.

The future of work has become the present of work

This year’s Slush confirmed what has come to become an industry fact: tech is defining the workplace. Brand titans like IBM, Facebook, and Google are not the only ones that are actively looking into how to improve the way we work and ultimately communicate together. Slush also showed that European startups and upcoming companies have also jumped on the bandwagon.

“In the beginning, it was about connecting people through social media, now it’s about connecting people in echo chambers.”
Michael PryorTrello

VR and AR solutions that improve the quality of our work have been on the agenda of many keynotes on all stages at the event. As a content and communication strategist, I am particularly interested in finding the best tools that help us optimize daily tasks and ultimately get the job done. This is why I found the talk the from Slack’s co-founder — Cal Henderson particularly interesting. The integration of VR and voice search with Amazon’s Alexa are indicating that Slack has matured beyond the current market needs.

Cal Henderson, Slack and Ilya Fushman, Index Ventures on the Fireside Stage at Slush

It is clear to see that European companies are definitely tapping into work solutions that help their employees perform better. However, even if the current digital space is evolving at a fast pace, we are still in a ‘bardo’ state. As Ca, Henderson points out, meeting the future takes time:

“Email is like the cockroach of the internet: nobody likes them, but they are impossible to eliminate. “
Cal Henderson, Slack

See you at Slush 2018?

I am already looking forward to Slush 2018 with team Komfo! Let’s exchange thoughts and expectations.