Finland has firmly established a reputation as a land of unicorns. Helsinki has one of the highest numbers of unicorn founders in Europe, and Aalto University has produced more unicorn founders than any other academic institution in the Nordics.
The land of ‘unicorns‘
So it should come as no surprise that Day Two of Slush saw unicorn founders out in force. There were big audiences for the founders of Wolt, DoorDash and Slack on the main stage. And they were being interviewed by some of the world’s biggest VCs, with fireside chats run by Partners from Sequoia, Index Ventures and EQT Ventures.
The unicorn founders were discussing their growth, and in every case these were stories of grit, determination and stamina. For the thousands of young startups and aspiring founders at Slush, this was a reminder that real success in tech is a marathon not a sprint, especially in the current climate.
Climatetech and gaming
Gaming is at the heart of Finland’s startup ecosystem, and Supercell’s Ilkka Panaanen drawing almost as big a crowd as Sanna Marin, the former Prime Minister.
The games industry was front and centre of Day Two, with the co-founders of Discord and King both reflecting on the continued growth and investment in the sector.
And again, climatetech was another dominant theme throughout the day. There might not have been as many climatetech founders on the main stage as there could have been considering this is a sector that is surely set to define the next decade of European tech. However, the Horizon Stage featured emerging climatetech founders and walking up and down the startup exhibition stalls this is becoming the overwhelming focus for a new generation of founders.
Winning the war for talent is a battle
Talking to founders at Slush, the single biggest challenge that they raised time and time again interestingly wasn’t access to funding, but access to talent.
Tech layoffs and redundancies had a significant impact on the talent landscape in Europe, but the lack of later stage investment and fewer exits means that startups are struggling to retain talent as they grow.
Now that the boom years are over and the realisation of stock options is moving further into the distance, ambitious and highly skilled tech workers are increasingly looking to create something for themselves. Especially now that we’ve seen so many successful startups led by former employers of the likes of Skype, Revolut and Klarna.
We spoke to many new founders who have made the decision in the last year to go it alone.
The result is that the fight for talent is raging more than ever and themes like employee engagement, hiring talent, creating the right culture for company leaders were repeated all day on the Builders Stage.
Antler’s Investor Office Hours session was a case in point – it was oversubscribed with aspiring founders who often only have an idea about what they want to build, but they know they want to create a tech company. How existing tech companies absorbs the impact of record numbers of new founders will be a very interesting trend in 2024.
Slush 2023 draws to a close
As this year’s Slush draws to a close, this year’s event has certainly felt bigger than ever before, with more content, more meetings and more founders.
After the shock of the first impact of the tech downturn, there has definitely been a more optimistic tone to Slush 2023, with founders and investors confident that the likes of AI and climatetech will see significant fundraising activity in the year ahead.
Recognition as well to the army of young volunteers who make Slush work like clockwork. The unicorns may bring in the crowds, but the volunteers are the unsung heroes of the event.
It’s been a whirlwind of familiar faces and new connections and the only thing left is the famous Slush Afterparty. We’ll see you next year! The Slush 2023 coverage on Tech Funding News was brought to you by Antler’s team including Livia Moore, Antti Tormanen and Sarah Finegan.