The Diaspora to Arctic15 – By Jonas Dromberg

June 1, 2015

Arctic 15Copyright, Arctic Startup Ltd.


A week has soon passed since the Arctic15 startup conference in Helsinki and its time to list the highlights from the most recent activity gauge in the Nordic region and the Baltic states. Key takeaway: both investor size and number doubled. 


The Nordic and Baltic startup ecosystem is stronger than ever. That’s despite increasing mentions of gargantuan valuations at some startups, especially in Silicon Valley. On the contrary, the louder the cries for a U.S. bubble sound, the more international focus the region seems to attract.


While last week’s Arctic15 was just a tenth of the size of it’s sibling Slush,* arranged each November in Helsinki, it still managed to lure the world’s largest venture capital firm to its roster of investors. In addition to New Enterprise Associates, with $18 billion under management, many other important U.S. players decided to attend, such as SV Angel, Google’s early investor, and Y Combinator, which helped spawn Airbnb.


The leap from last year was marked. The largest investor grew twice in size and the number of large non-Nordic investors more than doubled too. Clearly, in the current investor climate, there is a need for two startup conferences in Finland. While the value of Slush with its 14000 attendees remains undisputed, the larger it expands, the more there also is a calling for a more private event.


The comments we heard last week from foreign VC’s echo this view. A smaller event allows for more focused deal sourcing and relationship building. At the giant conferences, such as Slush and Ireland’s Web Summit, “you might have to sacrifice serendipity for planning,’’ Forbes’ Frederico Guerrini wrote ahead of Arctic15.


Acknowledging the need for smaller venues, the current valuation differences on both sides of the Atlantic probably boosted Artic15’s attractiveness further. During the conference, Mosaic Ventures, who also attended the event, published a report speculating that a possible startup bubble may be more tempered in Europe than in the U.S., signalling that investors should seek for a safe haven on the old continent.


And Arctic15 is increasingly spanning the old continent. Of all the startups, the one that I felt had the most diverse canvas was Bold Gadgets, whose Palestinian founders worked from Estonia, sold pre-orders globally on Indiegogo and pitched in Helsinki to the world’s largest investor. This makes perfect sense to the Arctic15 arrangers who themselves are immigrants.


While the event is fast becoming more international, it still manages to distill that special Finnish flavour. The event catering was exceptional, with locally-sourced whole pork roasts being the centerpiece of the offering. Although the premises at times felt big for the venue — Slush filled the same space with ten times the attendees in 2013 — it was laid out so that people could in comfort cruise from the main stage to the side stage, passing the deal room, the startup stands and the superb barista section.


The hidden eponym in the name of the event, the pitch slam competition with its fifteen finalists,** was this year won by Finland’s Fourdeg, a building automation startup that claims to cut district heating costs by up to 28 percent.


We owe all the wonderful Arctic15 arrangers a big thank you for a superbly arranged two days. I only have one wish for Arctic15 next year. Let’s not grow it much bigger. It’s perfect as it is.


Notes to reader:

*Ilkka Kivimäki, chairman of Slush, is a partner at Inventure.

**The author was a non-voting contributor to the main prize awarded at Arctic15.