TechCrunch: Slush revokes $1M pitch prize from Russian founders after industry outcry

Immigram — a talent immigration platform founded by two Russian passport holders — has been removed from a $1 million startup competition that it won last week at the high profile Slush conference in Helsinki, after a swirl of controversy enveloped the decision due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

  • Amid allegations of the startup helping Russians move at a time when the country is being sanctioned, and others claiming that the conference and judges were tone deaf to award the top prize to a Russian-founded startup, TechCrunch has found that the startup appears to have investor ties to Russia.
  • The fallout from the whole situation has been substantial, with posts criticizing the award going viral, but also the startup’s founders — who have said they do not support Russia’s aggression — facing death threats and more.
  • It was in this context — and after a heavy vetting process by Slush (four stages, more than 1,000 startup applicants) — that Immigram came to pitch live at Slush last week. But when it emerged shortly after that the co-founders were still both Russian passport holders, social media — particularly on LinkedIn — lit up about the decision, focusing on this aspect of the pitch competition’s decision. Among them, an extensive post by Yaroslav Krempovych of Movens Capital in Warsaw, criticizing the decision to hand the award to Immigram, went viral over the weekend. “While some startup founders fight and die on the frontlines for the lives of their families and loved ones and their country’s freedom, others seek to assist Russians to escape the repercussions of their acts and inactions,” he posted.
  • Several other commentators, including TechUkraine, assembled yet more critical posts of the decision
  • TechCrunch has uncovered an investor in Immigram who maintains close links to Russia. Sergey Sergey Dashkov, head of JOINT JOURNEY Ventures, a Cyprus-based early-stage investor in Immigram, recently listed his location on LinkedIn as “Moscow.” This was changed only after TechCrunch contacted him for comment.
  • Regardless of whether Immigram, based out of the UK but run by Russian passport holders, directly violates and specific sanctions, observers have called the decision by Slush to include the startup in the competition “tone-deaf”, coming the same week as Russia was shelling Ukrainian cities. Furthermore, the VCs involved have come under criticism for not engaging in greater due diligence during the pitch competition, and failing to “read the room” regarding the background of the startups involved. A source close to the judging panel told TechCrunch that the judges’ decision not to go ahead with the investment had nothing to do with the founders having Russian passports, but because too many of its customers, outside of the other countries it serves, were from Russia. The business is indirectly getting more traction because of the war, not because Immigram did anything wrong, but because most of the applicants on their platform are currently Russian.
Read more via TechCrunch 
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