Indian start-up scene picking up like never before

Riku Makela, CEO, Slush

‘Slush 2015’ proved the grandest edition of the event which has been improving in its reach, profile of participants and impact. To find out more about the philosophy and the organization of Slush, Anand Mishra, Editor and Rajesh Mehta, Consulting Editor, ‘Governance Today,’ spoke to Riku Makela, CEO of Slush. Edited excerpts:

What is Slush and how did this idea generate? How has the event evolved over last few years?

Slush was started in 2008 to stand apart from your typical startup events. Back in the mid-2000’s, most of the European tech clusters aspired to be the “Silicon Valley of X”. But if you want to be Silicon Valley, the best you’ll ever be is a second-rate copy.

So the idea with Slush was to do something different; to make European tech stand out in a different way. The event is not-for-profit, aiming to help the next generation of entrepreneurs build global businesses out of Europe. Because of the non-profit nature, we believe that we can more effectively help the startups regardless of the situation – and also during other times of the year when we are not organizing the events!

The major growth of Slush has taken place since 2011. That was the year that the global ambition level was set. The event doubled in size from 2011 through to 2014. In 2015, we decided to maintain size in order to deliver more value and meaningful encounters for the entrepreneurs in attendance. After this year’s event, we feel this was a good choice. Slush 2015 drew together 15,621 attendees from 100 countries including 1,681 startups, 777 investors and 725 journalists.

You have introduced Science Pitching Competition this year. What is the rationale?

The commercialization of research has always been a hot debate globally. We feel that by introducing research-verified concepts, the scientists or researchers are more effectively able to structure business teams around them. We have worked with several universities on this topic and tried to identify a good way of doing this. The Science Pitching Competition was also a huge hit amongst the audience, so we’re enthusiastic about making it happen again in 2016.

Could you share with our readers about the start-ups profile in the event? What benefits participants derive from this global event?

Our basic concept is putting startups together with angel investors, VCs and journalists. So probably the most typical forms of participation are being active via the matchmaking tool in order to meet investors, and launching products and connecting to international media for coverage. Also B2B businesses are looking to engage with clients (there are over 1,000 larger tech organizations at Slush), and B2C businesses typically demo their products to the wider audience.

The group of 1,700 startups consists of a very broad range of different technologies and industries. The largest sectors represented were e-commerce & online marketplaces, analytics, big data & AI, and gaming with over 150 startups per each category. The overall technology trends visible in the participant group are mobile in general, and more recently IoT.

How do you see the start-up segment changing globally over the next half decade period?

The geographies of where billion-dollar success stories come from will fragment further. It used to be Silicon Valley only, then Northern Europe and China started rising. Currently these regions account for ~85% of new billion-dollar tech businesses.

China will probably produce successful technology with exponential growth in numbers, but we’ll see countries like India and Indonesia start producing globally-recognized success stories very quickly.

From a European point of view, this is definitely the best time to be a European tech entrepreneur, so what we’re expecting to see in the upcoming years is a growing parade of great businesses, of which some will become globally dominant leaders in the $10-150B valuation range.

What are the unique takeaways from Slush this year?

This year we focused very much on European technology, Europe’s success stories, and showcasing these to the rest of the world. The key takeaway is that this definitely is the best time in history to be a European tech entrepreneur. Geography no longer matters; great companies can come from anywhere. It’s easier than ever to start a company, put its digital infrastructure in place, and reach a global audience via the available digital distribution channels. I think showcasing these megatrends was the key thing; we have launched a report on euro tech together with the leading VC firm Atomico which is available at Next year, we’ll of course still maintain a bit of the focus on our home base of Europe, but we’ll continue to expand our horizons to cover even more geographies, and to bring more and more value to participants from cross the world.

Could you share your experience from Slush in Japan last spring which we hear was quite successful? Are you also thinking of a Slush event in India?

Slush in Japan – called Slush Asia – was a really great success. One of the key reasons Slush was successful there was timing. The culture toward entrepreneurship is not very established in Japan, and thus there was a really great spot to bring over a community-driven initiative that could help define the Japanese entrepreneurship scene for years to come. I believe that the event in Japan will be an even bigger success in 2016.

As for Slush in India, we have had several discussions and are still engaged in them. We’ve gotten more and more acquainted, and we have some local knowledge as we did small get-togethers in Bangalore in 2013 and 2014.

The tech scene in India is definitely picking up, so the question that we’re thinking about is if there’s room for us to come in through the community-building aspect that we are so fond of. We’ll see how this develops throughout 2016.

Indian start-ups have started to get attention and financing of late. How do you see start-up ecosystem developing over coming years?

The Indian startup scene is definitely picking up like never before. While there were some rare successes in the late 90’s out of Delhi especially, what we’re seeing now is a completely new structured approach to entrepreneurship that will probably reap massive results in the next 5 or 10 years. Most of the world’s leading VCs are becoming active in India, which of course says a lot about the startup scene.

I would expect there to be a large group of global category leaders that emerge from India in the upcoming years. The big question for successful Indian companies is the same as for Chinese ones: because the domestic market is so large, one can build billion-dollar businesses without internationalizing. Will these entrepreneurs be hungry enough to take on a global market even though the home base is so vast? Time will tell.

You had mentioned that Finnish Govt. should create new visas for startups and entrepreneurs so that they can attract international talent. Please elaborate on this?

This is not really my own opinion, it’s something I’ve picked up from talking to hundreds of Finnish entrepreneurs throughout the year. About a dozen European countries already have a special visa for top-end tech talent or entrepreneurs. This makes it easier to attract scarce talent resources or entrepreneurs that are coming to Europe from outside of the EU. For them, and for their families, the normal visa process is often unnecessarily heavy. I think most entrepreneurs in Europe feel that a special visa category would help them attract the best people on a global scale.

To read about Slush event visit.
Slush: the annual start up jamboree