Totally Slushing it. The Latvians gave it all they had, made a splash, and have laid the foundation for a serious, government-backed startup presence in Europe.
Slush. A tech/startup conference that's known for being held at the worst possible time in Helsinki - when it's cold, dark, not quite warm, but not yet snow white - it's just slush.
Latvians have been going to Slush for ages. But this year the Latvia vs. World representation ratio was kicked up a notch. The organizers registered 97 Latvians - practically 100. Not only were Latvians present in record amounts, it was also the first time the Latvian government brought a stand to Slush. It gets better - there was also a state-hosted event, a breakfast for investors and media to shine an even brighter light on the incredible advancements made by this tiny country.
Latvian startups take the stage
But Slush is about the startups. This year, there were 1800 present in total. When a startup goes to Slush, they have the chance to win the pitch competition. Of the 1800, startups apply to be able to pitch. The best startups are chosen and gradually narrowed down. 4 Latvian startups were named as part of the Slush 100, which was further reduced to the Slush top 50. Vividly and Castprint made it into the top 50, which meant they got the chance to pitch on the stage. Though the teams didn't move on, the fact that these startups were top 50 out of 1800 is an incredible achievement in and of itself.
Gunita Kulikovska, pichtchin her VR startup - Vividly.
The Magnetic Latvia stand premiere at Slush
Boots on the ground - for the first time we saw a stand hosted by a government organization - LIAA - at Slush. The stand showcased Latvian startups who had the opportunity to speak to the 20,000 Slush participants wandering the event.
The stand was a hub of attraction with many interested passers-by stopping to talk about their innovation.
Along with the Latvian delegation came plenty of copies of the CoFounder magazine, which had a 16 page long feature about the Latvian startup ecosystem, data, opportunities, as well as highlights from some of the most interesting startups.
Historic breakfast bringing together media + investors
The Latvian Breakfast event was historic - the first time that media and investors were invited to listen to about Latvia's offer to the startup industry - ranging from the policy initiatives such as the Startup Visa (residence permit) and the Startup Law, to the startups themselves as well as the community events and even the excellent connectivity to airports in Europe.
The startup ecosystem was introduced by Ernests Jenavs, CEO of Edurio. He likened the Latvian startup scene to the “third son” - a character in a Latvian folk tale who is not overly attention seeking, just quietly gets thejob done without the pomp and circumstance displayed by his brothers. This is so true when it comes to the Latvians - shy by nature, and prefer to just keep tinkering on their projects in their own corner of the world.
This was followed by words by the Minister of Economics, Arvils Aseradens, who has been the driving force behind innovative startup-friendly policies, such as the startup law, startup residence permit, ridesharing law and more.
We saw a panel of notable participants in the startup ecosystem hosted by Jenavs (Edurio), with participants including Alise Semjonova (Co-founder and CEO of Infogr.am), Egita Polanska (Startup Wise Guys recruiter), Arvils Aseradens (Minister of Economics) and Marija Rucevska (CEO of TechChill).
This panel was followed by an investors panel, hosted by Andris Berzins (partner at Change Ventures), and it featured nordic investors who have also made an investment in the Baltics. The panel highlighted different aspects of investing in the Baltics. This panel proved to be a hit - generating questions and comments from present investors also looking to invest in the Baltic region.
Laying a solid foundation for success
The trip to Slush was an example of what can be achieved when everyone puts their heads together to make something happen. As a result, you'd be hard-pressed to meet someone at Slush who didn't know about Latvia or who hadn't at least run into one during the conference. Mareks Matisons said, as a 7-year Slush attendee, that this was the first Slush where at the coffee machine, his conversation partner would be able to say "oh yeah, I've already talked to some Latvians", and is able to procure a business card from his pocket.
By continually making an effort to have a presence in startup events, Latvia continues to solidify its place among the global startup scene, make itself visible to the world, investors, and media. Each such event is a catapult to growing global recognition, and a big thanks is in order to everyone who participated and made this event possible, particularly the Ministry of Economics, LIAA, as well as the TechChill team.
See you next year?