We catch up with Eerika Savolainen, CEO of Slush, a nonprofit aimed at helping founders change the world. We chat about behind-the-scenes operations at Slush, a focus on deep tech, sustainabilty in events, maintaining diversity and inclusivity, and what the future of Slush holds.
Ahead of Slush's much-anticipated 2023 edition scheduled for November 30th and December 1st in Helsinki, Finland, Eerika shares her journey from volunteer to CEO, including the ins-and-outs of running Slush year-round, and her vision for the future of the event.
Ben: Hi, this is Ben from Sesamers, live from Paris; we're thrilled to have Eerika Savolainen, CEO of Slush, with us today. Eerika, how are you doing?
Eerika: Hi, I'm doing very well. Thanks for asking.
Ben: Thank you for taking the time. To kick things off, could you tell us about your background and how you became the CEO of Slush?
Eerika: Well, like most Slush team members, I stumbled upon Slush during my studies. I was majoring in finance at Aalto Business School. During my orientation week, there was an opportunity to volunteer at this intriguing startup event called Slush. So, I signed up out of curiosity and ended up enjoying it. I volunteered in 2014 and 2015, took a break to focus on studies and internships, and returned as a full-time member in 2019. It's been an exciting journey.
Ben: Slush went through a break in 2020 due to the pandemic. How did that impact the team?
Eerika: Yes, unfortunately, in 2020, we had to cancel our main event due to the pandemic. It was challenging, but also a year of learning. We piloted Node by Slush, an online community for founders, which turned out to be a success. Node is now a year-round offering alongside the Helsinki event.
Ben: When you're not preparing for the main event, what does the Slush team do throughout the year?
Eerika: Slush is a year-round event, so the team works on it constantly. Our team consists of 48 full-time members, and we aim to emulate a startup in every way possible. We usually start the year with around 20 full-timers, scale up towards 30-40, and reach nearly 50 just before the event. Additionally, 1,600 volunteers join us to make the event possible.
Ben: That's impressive. Apart from the main event, what other initiatives does Slush undertake?
Eerika: In addition to the main event, we run Node year-round, which is a community focused on monthly events. We're also developing the software side of Node, such as an investor tool for early-stage startups. Besides that, we have Slush'd, a series of local events worldwide to address local ecosystem challenges and bottlenecks.
Ben: I've seen the evolution of the Slush platform, which is impressive. Can you tell us more about the platform's growth and its key features?
Eerika: Our online products run on Platform, a holistic system for everything our event needs. We've extended features like the investor tool beyond the event. In terms of matchmaking, we've focused on increasing response rates and improving user inbox management. We also increased overall meeting capacity and introduced matchmaking in some side events, like Investor Day and Founders Day.
Ben: How about the Slush stage program this year? Are there any themes or speakers that stand out?
Eerika: Each stage at Slush has its purpose. For example, the Founder Stage features iconic stories on company building, while the Builder Stage focuses on hands-on company building advice. The Horizon Stage is a platform for looking into the future of technologies and other topics, and the Startup Studio shines a spotlight on early-stage startups.
Personally, I'm excited about Claire Hughes Johnson, the ex-CEO of Stripe, who will be sharing insights on building a scalable company. I also look forward to hearing from Mistral AI, Europe's answer to OpenAI, as their objectives and vision are fascinating.
Ben: Can you tell us more about the Slush 100 competition and the startups involved?
Eerika: Certainly. We partner with five leading VCs, and the winner receives a 1 million euro equity investment. The top 20 have been selected, and they're preparing for their semifinal speeches. The competition is exclusively for early-stage companies founded in 2020 or later, providing them with a platform to connect with leading VCs and investors.
Ben: On the sustainability front, what eco-friendly initiatives does Slush undertake during the conference?
Eerika: Sustainability is crucial for us. We focus on reusing materials and providing plant-based food services. We also offset carbon emissions from our event operations and all participants' flights, working with Supercritical. Attendees have the option to contribute to offsetting their carbon footprint.
Ben: Diversity and inclusion are essential for Slush. How do you ensure that everyone feels welcome at the event?
Eerika: We have a strict code of conduct that all participants must read and follow. We have safety mediators to resolve conflicts and provide support. We believe that diversity and role models matter, so we make sure our stage program is diverse. Currently, 75% of our leadership positions are held by women, which is essential for shaping the future of the ecosystem.
Ben: Thank you, Eerika. It's been a pleasure talking to you. What's next on your agenda after December 1st?
Eerika: First, I'll take a day to sleep in, then the team will review feedback and start planning for the future. This will be my last year at Slush, so I want to ensure a successful conclusion.
Don't miss Slush 2023, where innovation, diversity, and exciting startups come together to create a lasting impact. Thanks again to Eerika for sharing her insights and vision for Slush with us.