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Members of the IT community from Ukraine, Poland and other European countries criticized the victory of the immigration platform Immigram at the Slush 100 international startup competition in Helsinki. The reason was the Russian roots of the founders of the service. The main argument of critics is related to the fact that Immigram won a million euros from large investment funds – while Russia is at war with Ukraine. Over the weekend, the organizers of the competition conducted a review, revoked Immigram’s win and issued a public apology.

November 18 Immigram service for IT professionals who want to move to the UK, took first place in an international competition pitches Slush 100. The startup team took the stage and received a prize in the form of a check for a million euros – this is an investment from large international funds Accel, General Catalyst, light speed, NEA and northzone. These companies have long established themselves around the world through successful investments – for example, in MetaSpotify and Airbnb.

In addition to a million euros, the winner of the Slush 100 receives an impressive PR platform – the competition is followed by the media, many other investors and potential users of the services. Participate maybe not everyone – in 2022, only startups no older than three years old, having already received investments in the amount of at least 500 thousand euros, were allowed to apply. Meduza was unable to find any evidence that companies with Russian founders have restrictions on participation in the competition.

Slush is a “student-inspired” international non-profit organization from Finland, and the annual startup conference is its flagship event. This year it was held November 17-18 in Helsinki.

Before that, Slush organizes a pitching contest. Any startup that was founded no earlier than 2019 and has already received at least 500 thousand euros from other sources could submit an application. In fact, this means that the idea has already found the first investors who believed in it, but is still at one of the initial stages of development.

The main prize of the Slush 100 competition is a million euros from five investment funds that are looking for new ideas (including) in Europe. First, the organizers of Slush select the top 100 applications, and then investors select the winner in several stages. For example, only the top 20 get to the final part in Helsinki. The winner is announced at the conference.

Investors, obviously, are interested not only in giving money to the winning startup, but also in accompanying it in its further development.

Examples of past winners:

  • Fishbrain (2012) is an app for fishermen with the largest such community in the world;
  • Cybelangel (2016) is a company that develops solutions in the field of cybersecurity, for example, for detecting data leaks. As a result of the funding round in 2020, Cybelangel received 36 million euros;
  • Hormona (2021) is an app for women that helps you keep track of your health, including hormones and periods. The company launched in Europe in the fall of 2022 and, having received a new investment of $1.5 million, plans to enter the US market.

Founded in 2020 and based in London Immigram helps IT-specialists to get a visa “for talent”, to move to the UK and adapt to a new place. Both creators of the project, Anastasia Mirolyubova and Mikhail Sharonov, were born in Russia and left the country. By data Silicon Republic, Immigram plans to spend the million euros won on expansion outside the UK. Before investors, a startup positions itself as a solution to a problem that is relevant for Europe – by its own example explains Mirolyubov:

My journey began seven years ago, when I moved to the UK – since then it has been very thorny. In all these years, I had to get 21 visas (shows red passports to the camera – approx. Meduza) and spend 63 weeks waiting for decisions [о том, дадут ли их мне]. This time I could spend on building a company and working for the good of society.

Startup convinces investors by citing data World Bank on the growth in the number of highly skilled migrants in the EU by 225% from 2004 to 2018 and forecast consulting firm Korn Ferry that because of “lack of talent» The global economy risks missing $8.5 trillion by 2030.

Immigram does not hide the fact that he worked with employees of Russian IT companies – in the presentation for Slush, which Meduza got acquainted with, the logos of Yandex and the Okko online cinema (owned by Sber) are indicated. On the slide they are alongside Apple Facebook, Google and Amazon are mentioned in the list of “tech top companies” with “happy customers”. Meduza has requested comments from Yandex and Okko, but has yet to receive a response.

Why Immigram was criticized – and how the startup lost money

After the announcement of Immigram’s victory in the pitch competition, the organizers of Slush faced criticism from the IT community. Its participants were unhappy that a company with Russian roots was receiving investments from international companies during the war that Russia unleashed in Ukraine. The essence of the claims explained on LinkedIn, top manager of the Polish investment company Movens Capital Yaroslav Krempovich:

Russia fired ballistic missiles into the Dnieper yesterday, killing more than 20 people. Two days ago, Russia launched more than 100 missiles, destroying Ukraine’s critical civilian infrastructure and leaving millions of people without electricity, heat or water. At terrorist attack in Poland two people died.

At the same time, Immigram, whose team is made up of 100% Russians, some of whom still live in Russia, is actively helping Russians navigate complex immigration procedures to increase their chances of moving to the UK and thus escaping the consequences. international sanctions and business withdrawal from Russia.

The victory of Immigram was criticized, for example, by the Ukrainian investor Mikhail Sapiton, who until recently was a technology journalist, as well as a specialized publication TechUkraineunder whose post on LinkedIn unfolded a large discussion of the IT community members.

The decision of Slush was surprised in the Finnish parliament of Finland, the country in which the organization is based. Local MP Mikko Karna wrote tweeted: “Slush went and gave a million euros to a Russian company that helps Russians get around sanctions. [Глава Slush] Erika Savolainen, aren’t you ashamed?

People attend the Not-for-profit-Startup- and Tech-Event Slush 2022 Startup Event in Helsinki, Finland on November 17, 2022. (Photo by Emmi Korhonen / Lehtikuva / AFP) / Finland OUT

Ukrainian publication about technologies and startups AIN.Capital wrote, which considers it “a highly controversial decision” to support Russian projects “during the all-out war unleashed by Russia, which caused immigration problems and an energy crisis.” The publication noted that Immigram is still hiring in Russia, indicating that in its profile There are six open vacancies on HeadHunter – but at the time of publication of the note there are no active offers for candidates.

A special mention deserves the fact that a Ukrainian startup was among the top three finalists of the competition. Zeely. This is a fintech application created in 2021 aimed at helping small businesses.

There are those who speak out in defense of Immigram. For example, Mike Butcher is the editor-in-chief of TechCrunch, which wrote about this startup against the backdrop of the massive exodus of IT specialists from Russia after the start of the war with Ukraine. Butcher emphasizesthat Immigram is “actually helping the war with Putin by destabilizing the Russian economy”:

If Russia relies on the sale of gas, then it also relies on talented people, and talent is also “oil”. Immigram withdraws resources from Russia in the form of talented people. This is useful in the context of global politics directed against Putin and the Kremlin, including the war in Ukraine.

In response to criticism, the organizers of Slush declared on solidarity with Ukraine and condemnation of the Russian invasion: “We do not cooperate with Russian companies and investment funds, and we also do not accept applications from startups and investors who are located in Russia.” In the same statement, Slush announced the start of an Immigram background check.

Immigram Team released statement, noting that it aims to support specialists “regardless of nationality and passport color.” The company wrote that in two years of work it helped more than 350 people move, some of whom got jobs in MetaGoogle and Samsung, and also explained that the startup employs people not only with Russian, but also with Ukrainian and Polish roots, as well as employees from the UK, other European and Asian countries.

Immigram also commented on allegations of cooperation with Russia:

When Russia invaded Ukraine, we launched our free program for Ukrainian talent and covered the costs for them. We have also relocated our team members to the UK, Armenia and Georgia. We hired a lot of talented Russians, thus allowing them to leave the country with a terrible regime and stop supporting the militarized economy. At the moment we do not have a single employee in Russia.

We see our mission as helping wonderful people leave their home countries in search of a better future, which is especially important for those who do not want to support a country that is at war.

On Monday, November 21, the winner of the Immigram startup competition announced about withdrawing his candidacy and promised to continue to “support Ukraine and build a company for millions of talented people who want to move freely around the world.”

Later that day Slush annulled Immigram won and called on all five investment funds that were supposed to transfer a million euros to the startup to withdraw these funds. The organizers of the competition apologized for the “oversight” and promised to check the participants more carefully.

Is the Russian economy really focused on supporting the war?

Sergey Zvezda


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J. A. Allen

Author, blogger, freelance writer. Hater of spiders. Drinker of wine. Mother of hellions.

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