Sifted: Outrage after a startup with Russian founders wins Slush pitch competition

Members of Europe’s startup community have blasted a decision to give the top prize in a prestigious pitching competition to a company with Russian founders which helps tech talent, including Russians, relocate to the UK.

  • As the winner of Slush 100, Immigram will receive a €1m investment from five top VCs: Accel, General Catalyst, Lightspeed Venture Partners, NEA and Northzone. One of the other finalists which pitched to the investors onstage on Friday was a Ukrainian startup called Zeely.
  • Critics have called the decision tone-deaf; coming the same week when Russia executed a mass shelling over Ukrainian cities. Many have also questioned if international VCs should invest in Russian founders at all during the ongoing war.
  • Investors are now doing due diligence on Immigram and looking into the founders’ backgrounds — as is common practice after any startup is issued a term sheet — and if anything untoward is revealed as a result, Sifted understands the investment will not go ahead.
  • Slush said in a statement: “Slush stands with Ukraine and condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine. For this reason, we do not partner with Russian companies or funds or accept startup or investor applications from companies based in Russia.”
  • Sifted reached out for an official comment from Northzone, Lightspeed Venture Partners, General Catalyst, Accel, and New Enterprise Associates (NEA) over the weekend but received no response by the time of publication.
  • Ira Supruniuk, communication lead at TechUkraine: “It’s sponsorship of terrorism, support [for the] Kremlin regime and the policy of cruel war in Ukraine by Russian Federation. The situation is quickly turning into a scandal. It will definitely cause [damage to] the reputation of Slush as well as VC funds in the global tech arena. In these circumstances the organisers should change the jury’s decision. I guess that Ukrainian startup absolutely deserves to be the winner.”
  • Mateusz Zawistowski, managing director at ff Venture Capital: “The news of their [Immigram’s] employment in Russia naturally raises the question of why we are supporting the Russian tech scene right now.”
  • Borys Musielak, founding partner at SMOK: “I don’t want to judge if it’s a good or a bad business. But recognising a Russian startup, which is currently hiring in Moscow, at such a serious event, with the applause of top VCs… it’s not only a PR shot in the foot, but most of all, a very real shot in the back of the Ukrainians.”

Read the article by Zosia Wanat via Sifted

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