Helsinki, Finland (Taiwan News) – Known as the biggest startup and investor event in Europe, Slush Finland brought down the curtain on the evening of December 1.
Slush has grown from a 300 person assembly in 2008 to an international phenomenon today. The event in Helsinki in 2016 continued to scale up and brought together 2,336 startups, 1,146 investors, and 175,000 attendees from 124 countries, including Haakon, Crown Prince of Norway.
Slush has expanded to cities outside the country, including Tokyo, Shanghai and Singapore, along with 35 smaller Slush events all around the world in 2015. Among them, Slush Asia in Tokyo drew the attention of Taiwanese media as two startup teams from the island country – SkyREC (2016) and VMFive (2015) – took home the gold from pitch competitions two years in a row.
Some changes were revealed during the event, including a wider adoption of the new technologies ranging from virtual reality and blockchain.
On the morning of November 31, while the weather outside in Helsinki was freezing cold at around zero degrees Celsius, the inside of the Helsinki Exhibition & Convention Centre was warmed up by digital images of fire, real flames on its main stage, and a rousing solo performance by Finnish cello player Max Lilja. At the same time, hundreds of people lined up outside eager to get into the big show room decorated with a variety of symbols representing a beautiful dream awaiting to be seized and fulfilled, including a massive number of dream catchers hanging from the ceiling and giant installations of butterfly wings.
Slush Finland opening show (YouTube video)
Applying design thinking to healthcare issues
The event also gathered a number of startups dedicated to developing apps to better healthcare systems and to reduce the intangible waste of time or the tangible waste of money. They apply design thinking to solve medical problems. For example, Healthloop is a technology-enabled engagement platform designed to bridge patients and doctors and the app has been proven to significantly reduce surgical complications and improve therapeutic results.
Shoshana Berger, Editorial Director at Ideo, shared her personal story and talked about her initiative to “redesign death” that helps people live their lives fully right up until the end. Ideo, a global design and consulting firm that incubated Ideo.org, which specializes in applying design thinking to social problems around the world, is a leader in applying design thinking into a wide range of products and services. The company is now working with different teams to develop apps or services to support the choice to die with dignity.
As many countries around the world are moving toward an aged society at a rapid pace, providing quality healthcare services for seniors is expected to be a burgeoning business, and speakers at Slush agreed that “health data is the new "oil” waiting to be explored and utilized to create more value for the industry.
Virtual Reality and tourism
Virtual reality (VR) remains a hot topic. Its devices have finally hit store shelves this year and there will be much more to offer in the foreseeable future. RVX CEO Benjamin Bohn stood on the stage to speak of the company’s application of the technology in tourism, known as VR tourism, with its creative visual effects and animation production skills. Outside VR gaming and filming, the Icelandic company partners with VR developer Sólfar Studios and HTC Vive headsets to delve into VR tourism in a bid to tap into the large US$7 trillion global tourism market and the hundred-billion-dollar VR business at the same time. To reach that end, Bohn talked about the plan to integrate social media and real-life booking services with VR tourism to boost real-world travel.
Blockchain is to decenter banking system
Blockchain is a new technology which has been widely discussed in Taiwan this year and is expected to fundamentally change the way the Internet functions and the way people interact and transact with each other. Nicholoas Cary, co-founder of Blockchain, was on the stage to share insights and explained how the technology is going to turn the financial industry upside down.
Cary described blockchain as a cloud-based ledger or a spreadsheet program accessible worldwide that keeps track of ownership of properties. “When an update happens in one place, the virtual ledger is simultaneously and globally replicated and distributed all over the world,” he said.
Cary has flown to dozens of different countries to talk to policy makers and influencers about this innovation over the past years. In the speech, he said the technology is designed to decentralize the century-old and inefficient banking system, making transactions easier and much cheaper. With that, people with smartphones, regardless their skin color or nationality, can gain access to financial services. "It is not only a new technology, it's going to revolutionize the way people transact with each other," he said.
A startup co-founder makes a pitch at the annual Slush 100 Pitch Competition in Helsinki, Finland. (Taiwan News photo / Sophia Yang)
Panel of judges which consists of prominent figures from the fields of technology, startups and venture capital listen to a contestant's pitch. (Taiwan News photo / Sophia Yang)