Very cool: Polar Bear Pitching

When I first heard about Polar Bear Pitching, which was started a couple of years ago in Oulu, Finland, just a few hundred kilometers south of the polar circle, I thought to myself: “die spinnen, die Finnen!”. This is German and it rhymes, in English it would mean something like “they’re nuts, these Fins!” — and I decided I needed to see that. Also, we invest a lot in Nordic startups at next media accelerator, so I figured this would be a good opportunity to meet startups and investors from the Nordics.

So last week I went to the semi-finals of the Polar Bear Pitching contest in beautiful, but also very cold Tromsø in Norway. Tromsø is a beautiful city of about 75,000 people, way up in the North of Norway. Although the city is rather small, it has an airport, a university and a startup scene. Obviously, Tromsø is a little off the beaten path and it takes some effort to attract investors, but it has an interesting local startup ecosystem.

So I checked out Tromsø for the northernmost pitching event in Europe. Luckily, I brought long johns, gloves and a beanie. It was real winter in Tromsø and I was a little irritated when the taxi driver informed me that the sun went down in late November and will rise again next week.

The day before the big event, the organizers had planned a sailing and fishing trip for the investors. Pukka Travels made sure we had a great time on board, showed us how to fish and then served hot Norwegian fish soup with the cod we caught. And they made us wear those wonderful arctic sailing suits.

I caught a very nice cod, but I guess this was beginners luck. The best thing about the fishing trip was that we got to spend 5 hours together on a boat. So in a sense, nobody had the chance to escape and we all had enought time to discuss what we think is important for the startup ecosystem. I gained many insights about the Nordic startup scene.

The main event was amazing and I got to be part of the jury, which was a big honor for me. The biggest challenge for me was remembering all those interesting looking Norwegian expressions I was supposed to show to the contestants.

When I thought about how this pitch challenge would look like, I assumed people would climb into the ice-cold water and then quickly yell their name and 2 sentences about the company before jumping out again, then hopping into the hot water of the nearby jacuzzi. But I was wrong. They climbed in, took their time, explained what the startup is doing and what the USP is. Some stayed in the ice-cold water for so long that I began to freeze inside.

The winner of the Polar Bear Pitching contest was Bookis — a platform for new and used books with a novel distribution model. Close second was Abel — a personal trainer app that I need to try out as soon as it is available on the app store!

Polar Bear Pitching was a fun event with a good show and great networking potential. Unfortunately I won’t make it to the Polar Bear Pitching World Finals in Oula, Finland, this year, but I hope to be there next year!