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Slush revokes Immigram’s controversial win at pitch competition

The startup says it has opted out from the competition amid growing criticism

By Zosia Wanat

Anastasia Mirolyubova, CEO of Immigram

Startup conference Slush has decided to reverse its controversial decision to award Immigram, a startup founded by two Russian citizens, the top prize in its pitching competition. The decision comes after a flurry of criticism over the award, with many arguing that Europe’s tech scene shouldn’t back companies with any Russian ties. 

“In light of new information on the extent of the Slush 100 Pitching Competition winner’s operations in Russia, Slush has decided to revoke their win,” the competition’s organisers said in a statement on Monday. 

“Slush has requested the participating funds, who are currently going through their individual assessment, to pull their investment into Immigram.”

As the pitch competition’s winner, Immigram, which helps tech talent (including Russians) relocate to the UK, was in line to get €1m in investment from five leading international VCs: Accel, General Catalyst, Lightspeed Venture Partners, NEA and Northzone.

None of the firms replied to Sifted’s request for comment about the investment by the time of the publication. 

The Slush statement added: “Slush is sorry for the oversight. We should have reviewed all participants’ operations more closely before letting them enter the competition.

Immigram also bows out

In a statement posted on LinkedIn on Monday shortly before Slush tweeted out its decision, Immigram said that it had “opted out” of the competition. 

Immigram is a British company, founded in 2019 by two Russian citizens, Anastasia Mirolyubova and Mikhail Sharonov, who both relocated to the UK in 2016. The startup helps tech talent from more than 10 countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, India and the US, apply for the UK’s global talent visa. 

Soon after Immigram won the pitch competition, images emerged of a Russian jobs board that seemed to show it hiring for roles in Moscow. The company says it doesn’t have an entity in Russia or any employees based there, and has not taken any money from Russian investors. It says it hires people in Russia but only under the condition that they immediately relocate to another country. Mirolyubova has said that she’s against any Russian warfare in Ukraine. 

“We will continue supporting Ukraine and building a company for millions of talented people who want to move internationally,” the company said in a statement. 

Zosia Wanat is Sifted’s central and eastern Europe reporter, based in Warsaw. She tweets from @zosiawanat

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Alex
Alex

it is totally unacceptable for one country to start war and kill people, there is no racism in a decision to revoke the prize.

Wayne
Wayne

Could it be that the conference is worried that they would run afoul of the sanctions regime against Russia? To me, that’s a reasonable risk to avoid if the company has any possible ongoing operations in Russia.

Vanessa
Vanessa

What is gained by closing one of the few opportunities for the many talented Russians who do not back Russia’s agenda in the Ukraine? We should be helping them, not making it harder.

Paul
Paul

Shameful decision. Top talent should be shown a way out, not locked in with the wormongers.

Ryam
Ryam

Absolutely disgusting

Rob
Rob

Why do they think it’s okay to do this? “We’re really sorry, but we forgot to vet founders for whether or not they’re the correct ethnicity.”

Horrific.

Michael
Michael

it’s not about ethnicity, it’s about having ties to a barbarian nation killing thousands of civilians – that’s a huge difference.

Mikolas
Mikolas

@Michael, what year is this, people quote nazi-style rhetoric without grain of shame

Alex
Alex

because it is morally right to relocate specialists from Russia. What’s morally not right is to call every muslim a terrorist. and every russian an occupant. moreover, IT HURTS RUSSIA TO LOSE TALENTS. So it’s a win-win to relocate specialists from Russian. Most countries started doing that on the GOV level. and it is both economically good and morally good. Would you rather prefer that specialists from russia got stuck IN RUSSIA and were basically obligated to work for russian economy (which will be largely weapons production soon)? Spoiler: 95% of specialists are against the war. but you can’t even… Read more »

A.T.
A.T.

Just another example of Eastern Europe’s xenophobia. A UK-based company serving customers from everywhere, including Ukraine, gets punished for no reason. I am starting to doubt if any international-facing startups are even possible in the Nordics/Baltics until the political situation there stabilizes or the society matures.

Volodymyr
Volodymyr

>A UK-based company serving customers from everywhere, including Ukraine, gets punished for no >reason
1. Their website is not available in Ukraine without a VPN. Their Russian hosting is quite selective for some nations.
2. [difficult to verify] Yes, legally it is a British startup, and the founder moved to London, but most of the development team works from the Russian Federation. So please don’t manipulate the term xenophobia. It’s not about place of birth or nationality.

matt
matt

Xenophobia and cancel culture, close friends of racism.

Myname
Myname

Matt and A.T. – If only u used that energy to comment Russian SM channels instead, to push them to stop the war, you’d do so much more, than commenting herę.