Next week Helsinki will be taken over by thousands of founders going to the European startup event of the year — Slush.
For two days big and small names from every corner of Europe will meet under the sloping roof of Messukeskus, the Finnish capital's biggest conference centre, to meet, talk and drink together. It's the first event since 2019 after last year's conference was scrapped by the pandemic.
Are you a founder, marketing team or investor going for the first time? Here are 12 tips on how to make the most of it.
1/ Embrace the dark. Scandinavia may be known for its everlasting summer nights, but this time of the year it's dark for most of the day. Get ready for it or bring a SAD lamp. And it’s not just dark outside either — with dim lighting and the ubiquitous lasers, the feel of the whole event is like stepping into a nightclub and not getting out for two days.
2/ Bring your thermal underpants. Messukeskus itself will turn the heating up but Helsinki can be cut-to-bone cold this time of year. The forecast says highs of -4C!
3/ Bring swimwear just in case you get invited to a sauna party. Some of them mix both startups and investors. And try to fit in — no nudes! In 2015, one of the sauna boats almost sunk and all the partygoers had to be evacuated. But at least it's a good story for when you get home.
4/ Beware of the menu at the afterparties. Helsinki has a lot of experimental chefs — think Noma-style moss dishes — and they often get hired to cater events, so you can expect some oddities made of cloudberries or ambiguous pickled vegetables. Even if the menu is more traditional it will probably include more herring than the average non-Finn is used to. If you don't have a strong stomach for a rollmop, eat beforehand.
5/ Get a seat early if you want a great spot in the audience by the main stage, otherwise you and all the other latecomers are likely to be standing for the whole session. For the side events you can usually get in without a problem and they're worth checking out — if you want to catch a specific speaker after a talk, you have a much better chance at a side event.
6/ Wear a t-shirt with your startup's name on it. It's a great conversation starter as you queue for a beer at the afterparty, and it's normally too dark in the main hall to see name badges. Extra points if you get the name printed in glow-in-the-dark writing.
7/ Tell your story to every journalist and investor you meet, and try to get a slot in their diaries even before getting there. But if you haven't managed that, don’t be shy — they're at Slush for this exact reason. Perhaps you just get another LinkedIn contact but you never know what it could lead to further down the line.
8/ Find one of the hidden chill-out spots. In 2019 there was a secret garden space with beanbags that was weirdly under-used. Great for informal meetings (and naps).
9/ Keep away from the sponsor stands, except for grabbing a few sweets if there are any. Their services may be good for you but you can research that back on home turf. At Slush, they're just time thieves.
10/ Start building up your caffeine tolerance. Did you know that Finnish people drink more coffee than anywhere else in the world? Eight or nine cups a day is the norm. So, if you’re not used to it and are afraid you may suffer the consequences of a caffeine overdose, get some tap water. In comparison to most of Europe, it tastes good and is perfectly safe.
11/ Be prepared for aggressive recycling and don't hand out any flyers. Slush takes its sustainability stance way more seriously than any other conference you've been to.
12/ Speak to the student volunteers. Slush is big and it can be tricky to find your way even with a map in your hand. Also, a lot of the volunteers are tech/business students who are already planning their own startups. Who knows, next year they may be on stage presenting — or, if you’re lucky, have joined your company.