HELSINKI — Slush, the biggest event for tech startups in northern Europe, opened Wednesday in the Finnish capital Helsinki with the unmistakable strains of Finnish cello metal music, a pyrotechnics show and a record 17,000 participants, including many resident companies of the Skolkovo Foundation.

Max Lilja of the Finnish cello metal band Apocalyptica performed at the opening of this year's Slush event.  Photo: Jussi Ratilainen / Slush.

With investors and entrepreneurs from more than 120 countries present, Slush is not only an event, but a global community, its organisers said, welcoming attendees from the main stage ringed by jets of flames and showers of sparks, following a dramatic performance by Finnish cellist Max Lilja of the Finnish cello metal band Apocalyptica. 

“Our aim is to help the next world-conquering founders move forward,” said Slush president Nicolas Dolenc.

“We have grown from the Nordics to a global community who are all wanting to change the world through entrepreneurship.” 

Among those startups seeking to change the world are nearly 50 resident companies of the Skolkovo Foundation, many of whom were demonstrating their products at a joint stand shared by Skolkovo and Russian Venture Company (RVC), another state development institute, on the first day of the two-day event at Helsinki’s Messukeskus exhibition centre. 

Stealing the limelight on the stand was Texel Ease, where a constant stream of people waited to try out the company’s 3D body scanner for themselves. The technology is designed to take the hassle out of shopping by helping customers to find clothes that fit them.

A volunteer having a 3D scan of her body done by Texel Ease's machine at the Skolkovo stand at Slush. Photo:

Zooprotein, which makes high-protein food supplements from crushed fly larvae, attracted a great deal of interest at Skolkovo’s Startup Village in June, where it demonstrated cages of its buzzing flies and bowls of dried larvae. But at Slush, co-founder Alexey Istomin had to make do with an iPad showing rolling footage of live flies, its real ones having been confiscated at the Finnish border by customs officials. Zooprotein was looking for investors and partners at Slush to help it set up hundreds of production points that it says could save 15 million people from starvation by increasing meat production while reducing its cost. 

Another Skolkovo resident, Promobot, had brought with it one of its friendly promotional robots, which also attracted a lot of curious Slush participants. The robot, designed to provide people in crowded places such as airports and shopping malls with information, greeted visitors to the Skolkovo stand and exchanged pleasantries with them in English.

A less humanoid robot was being displayed by the company AnyWalker: a remote-controlled spherical robot with manipulator-arms that can be used to perform tasks on industrial production lines, monitor oil equipment and enter sites unsuitable for humans. The robot, demonstrated by AnyWalker’s co-founder and CTO Semyon Sechenev, regains its balance when rocked, and can overcome obstacles up to 4.5 metres high. It is also an educational platform for robotics and programming students, who can use it as a basic model to which they can add their own systems such as voice and face recognition. The company already has the support of RVC, and hopes to become a Skolkovo resident by the end of the year, said Sechenev. 

Cinemood, the winner of Skolkovo’s Startup Village back in June, had used its section of the stand to recreate a miniature home cinema, complete with a handheld popcorn maker, in order to demonstrate its cloud-connected mini-projector designed for families . 

Sergey Pisarenko, a serial entrepreneur representing several companies at Slush, including Venova (Risilica), a Skolkovo resident that has developed a technology to turn rice husks into amorphous silica dioxide, said there was a steady stream of Russian visitors to his stand, where he was promoting another of his companies, the scooter sharing system Samocat that is due to be introduced soon at the Skolkovo innovation centre. He said he planned to meet foreign investors and potential partners later on via Slush’s meeting appointment system. 

Slush has grown from an event for a few hundred people in 2008 to a series of events across the world, attended by 40,000 people. This year, Slush events were also held in Singapore, Shanghai and Tokyo, along with 35 smaller events. 

Four Skolkovo startups are taking part in this year’s Slush 100 Pitching Competition. One of them, Marvelmind Robotics, won the first prize at Slush Shanghai in October for its accurate indoor navigation system for use with autonomous robots, copters and virtual reality.

The other three are Tau Tracker (Nastec), a magnetic motion tracker for use in AR/VR and 3D apps; Aeroxo, a developer of long-range unmanned aerial vehicles; and Navigine, another precise indoor positioning platform, which attracted $400,000 in investment from a syndicate led by Finnish fintech company Innovestor earlier this year. 

The competing projects will be judged by a five-member jury of investors and industry experts, who will assess the product, its market potential, gained traction, the team’s competence and investment readiness. The award for this year’s Pitching Competition has not yet been announced. In 2015, the prize was an equity investment of 650,000 euros. 

More information about the Russian startups taking part in Slush 2016 is available here.