Only the hardiest need apply for freezing Finnish startup fest

If you’ve ever gone through the process of getting a tech startup off the ground, you’ll be familiar with the nerve-wracking process of pitching a group of stony-faced investors with your idea to revolutionise the industry of your choice by sticking an IoT sensor on it/integrating it with Alexa/turning it into Uber (delete as appropriate).

Unaccustomed as Downtime is to public speaking, it’s a thought that personally horrifies us, and probably explains why we will never be a technology entrepreneur.

So the thought of pitching a startup while standing in an ice hole carved into the frozen Baltic Sea, in Finland, in February, in temperatures that can drop to -30⁰C, leaves the Downtime office dumbstruck with terror.

But it’s real, it’s called Polar Bear Pitching and it’s happening in February in the city of Oulu, which lies at 65⁰ north, about 100 miles south of the Arctic Circle.

Polar Bear Pitching is part of a longstanding national tradition in Finland of wholehearted commitment to extreme sports and stunts that those who aren’t lucky enough to be Finns might think are slightly dotty – remember this is the country that came up with the sports of wife-carrying and Nokia-throwing, and hosts the annual Air-Guitar World Championships.

The organisers of Polar Bear Pitching describe their event as (mercifully) unique in that there is no time limit for your startup pitch, but you have to make it while standing waist-deep in the sea.

According to the organisers, it demonstrates the national attitude to life in Finland, “sisu”, which stands for the spirit of never giving up and rising to meet any challenge, even ones that may seem too much to handle.

“It sounds extreme, but that is exactly why this concept works. Here you can really show in a very concrete way, how far you are willing to go for your business. It is easy for investors to see who is serious about their work. Also, it is an opportunity for startups to get media exposure on a global scale,” they say.

The semi-finals will take place on 6 February and the finals a day later – so there’s still time to buy a ticket to Oulu. And happily for the survivors, the organisers have also thrown in towels, hot showers, a spa and an after party with (one would hope) all the aquavit you can drink.

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