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Slush CEO: Government should create special visas for startups

David Mac Dougall
New series: HSTV Newsmakers interviews the people behind the headlines
New series: HSTV Newsmakers interviews the people behind the headlines
This week: Slush CEO Riku Mäkelä talks about entrepreneur life in Finland. But does the annual event produce concrete results for the economy, or is it just an orgy of startup self-congratulations?

Slush CEO Riku Mäkelä says the Finnish government should introduce a new category of visas specially for entrepreneurs, to attract more international talent to the country.

Speaking on HSTV's new English-language current affairs show Newsmakers, Mäkelä noted that Finland lags behind other countries where an entrepreneur visa category already exists.

"Most of the nations in Europe actually have some kind of startup or entrepreneur visa that makes it super easy to attract top talent from wherever in the world, and we don't have a programme like that, whereas about a dozen other countries in Europe do" said Mäkelä.

For companies looking to tempt top-tier talent, Mäkelä said it would be "a big game changer" to introduce a new visa category "especially for the companies that could attract talent... to get the best guys and girls from wherever around the world".

This year the Slush conference will attract 15,000 visitors and 1700 startups, and has evolved into a week-long series of business forums, pitching competitions, cultural and social events. A new focus for this year is recruitment, with people from more than 100 countries descending on the Finnish capital, and startups from 83 countries represented.

"There's definitely a lot of talent available in Finland... but all of the companies operating in, say, Helsinki are also looking across the borders" said Mäkelä. "We're looking at recruiting, how we can help companies with that".

Slush has its roots at Aalto University, and was originally aimed at the startup community. Over the years, the event grew by allowing multinational corporations like Microsoft to play a more prominent role. Mäkelä concedes that organisers must balance requirements to make Slush big enough to be important on a European level, but still feel small and approachable on a local level. "I think we've been somewhat successful at that" he added.

Mäkelä generated some negative headlines in September, when he suggested in a Facebook post that the Slush community could become strike-busters, and replace essential services during industrial action. Now, he describes the episode as "very unfortunate" and says he "very much" regrets what happened, after a strong negative reaction from unions to his social media comments.

Looking ahead, Mäkelä says Slush will continue to become more international, with Slush Asia in Beijing next spring rivalling the Helsinki event in terms of numbers.

But he says that closer to home, the Nordic countries should integrate more, when it comes to tech innovations. "As individual countries we're not that powerful, but the Nordic story really really resonates everywhere in the world... and we need to work together on that".

Rio Gandara / HS
Riku Mäkelä
Riku Mäkelä
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