“It’s like Tomorrowland for startups!” biotope is at Slush 2023

Slush prides itself on being the most founder-focused event on earth. Assembling the largest gathering of startup founders and venture capitalists, it is the perfect setting for biotope by VIB to present its opportunities to potential candidates. We spoke to Lore De Valck about her experience on her trip up north.

“Connecting founders to the right scientific and technological expertise is what sets us apart from other accelerators”

Find it. Found it. Fund it.

What once began as a small student initiative has evolved into Europe’s premier startup event. Slush attracts over 13,000 participants to Helsinki each year, including aspiring founders, seasoned entrepreneurs, and investors. This year, Annick Verween and Lore De Valck were among the crowd.

“It’s like Tomorrowland for startups,” says Lore De Valck, who attended Slush for the first time this year. “Impressive stages, spectacular light shows, ice sculptures, water falls, you name it… Add to that delicious vegetarian food and freshly brewed cappuccinos, and I can tell you Slush was a real treat for all of the senses. But above all, it was very refreshing to meet so many new people from the startup world.”

With a meeting so far up north, especially Scandinavia and the Baltics were very well represented. “We got to know lots of founders, tech transfer offices and companies that weren’t on our radar yet. In Estonia and Lituania for example, biotech startups are booming.”

Satellite events

With a hugely successful main event, several side- and pre-meetings have popped up to gather a dedicated part of the crowd around more specific topics. ‘Y Science’, for example, is a satellite event focused on life sciences and centered around three themes: Health, Food, and Environment & Biomaterials. Or TONIC 23, a side event dedicated to B2B and B2C food startups.

“We attended several panel discussions at both Y Science and TONIC. From trends in consumer branding–do people care more about transparency about or the result of food technology?–to what to look for in a co-founder or how to work with hybrid teams. Even if these topics may seem primarily of interest to founders, there were valuable insights for us at biotope as well, as the questions and problems people face during early hiring sometimes are underestimated.”

Forging connections

But most important were the informal and informal new connections. “It was great to meet with the team behind the incubators at the University of Helsinki and Aalto University. They introduced us to the ‘Research to Business’ scheme at the Univeristy of Helsinki, a program where startups get two years to explore the commercial viability of their technology. Only at the end of that period, there is a decision about creating a university spin-out or licensing the new technology.

“It is valuable to learn about the approach of other initiatives, in and of itself, but above all, it is crucial for us to create strong ties to these programs as they can provide a continuous stream of valuable input on up-and-coming founders and startups. These are contacts that we can return to every year to find out what is buzzing.”

A special thank you goes out to Hanna Tuohino from Flanders Investment & Trade. “She helped us to establish valuable connections and by referring startups to our program.”

“It’s like Tomorrowland for startups!

Biotope’s unique scientific focus

When asked for the highlight of her trip, Lore circles back to the one-on-one meetings she had in Helsinki with six promising startups.

“Talking to these founders was so energizing. In those conversations, you realize that what we try to do with biotope can make the difference to get people and companies launched successfully.”

What emerged from these conversations is that biotope’s offer in terms of science and technology is quite attractive. While many potential candidates are initially drawn in for the funding opportunities, what they ultimately show genuine interest in is this particular expertise.

“Connecting founders to the right scientific and technological expertise is what sets us apart from other accelerators. Many founders I spoke to had prior experience with more general programs, lacking a specific scientific focus. While some had good mentors through such programs, they often had a more commercial background. Yet, many founders are still in a phase where they need specific partners or advice to help scale their technology.”

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