The Pro&Ice project, supported by ITMO's Technopark, got into the semi-finals. It is aimed at those who want follow a healthy lifestyle — its product is ice-cream that does not contain any sugar or harmful additives, but is rich in protein. The delicacy is even good for sportsmen who work on building up muscles. What's more, this product can be especially popular in Finland, which is the world's biggest consumer of ice-cream: an average Finn eats up to 14 liters of ice-cream every year. Regardless of the loss in the semi-finals, the team succeeded in attracting an investor.

"Polar Bear Pitching is a most useful event. We've exchanged contacts with potential distributors of our product, and met other useful people. What's more, we were noticed by the investors from the jury, who liked our project. Regardless of the fact that we didn't win, several interested people approached us still. One has a small ice-cream plant in Finland, where he invited us to. As the Pro&Ice technologist, I had the chance to meet theirs, learn of their work and exchange experience. We keep contact still", shared Malika Abdulaeva from the Pro&Ice project.

For her team, participation in this event was a debut, even though they've already had some serious groundwork — participated in ITMO 3.0 Reload, in Saint Petersburg's Startup Market, filmed a video with Life 78 and even got good feedback and lots of contacts from sportsmen and investors. Still, according to the team members, standing in the ice-cold water was not the hardest thing about the contest.

"The hardest part was to prepare the presentation in accordance with European standards, as their pitch culture is different from what we have in Russia. After the event, we also got the chance to participate in several workshops, where we could further hone our skills", shares Malika Abdulaeva.

Pro&Ice team member. Credit: personal archive

As for ITMO Technopark's residents, the ORBI project, they’ve succeeded in getting to the finals. The company is developing a camera for shooting 360-degree videos in the goggle shape factor. Amongst the other finalists, ORBI competed for the main prize — 10,000 Euros and the opportunity to get accelerated in the Silicon Valley. Konstantin Deresh, the company's representative who defended his idea while standing in the ice-hole for three and a half minutes, shared about this uncommon pitch and its peculiarities.

"As someone who has significant experience of speaking at lectures, pitches, and other types of events, I believe I have the necessary skills. Yet, when you enter the ice-hole, you forget to use all this experience and even what you are to say. Usually, the stage is on the same level as the viewers, or even a little higher, and the session goes in a calm relaxing atmosphere. At the Polar Bear Pitching, you stand lower than anyone, watched by over 400 people — the judges, viewers, participants. Personally, I was not really affected by it, but that was sure awkward. Yet, I felt a bit calmer after seeing the rescuer divers who sat nearby", shares Konstantin Deresh.

Yet, the cold water didn't hinder Konstantin much; his team won the audience award and is now competing for the prize that is given for most views on YouTube. By the way, you can watch their presentation here. According to Konstantine Deresh, Polar Bear Pitching is an important project, as it is an international experience, which is very valuable for the whole startup movement.

"What is quite interesting is that the event was organized by two universities, several governmental agencies and a governmental company responsible for economic development of all of the Finland's regions. So, this contest is an almost completely governmental project which gives great experience at creating a business. I believe that we should have similar events in Russia, as well. Regardless of being a show, Polar Bear Pitching organized good networking, which resulted in participants and sponsors getting more useful contacts", comments Konstantin Deresh.

Konstantin Deresh Credit: personal archive

The teams who participated in the contest presented different services — from platforms for customizing financial news to wristbands that allow future fathers to constantly feel how their unborn babies behave. The winner of the contest was the VIRTA project by a Finnish team that developed a software for operating electromobile filling stations.

"All in all, the teams got important experience. Many projects aim to get to the finals not because of the money, but for an opportunity to be in the international news. This year, the event was covered by such titles as The Guardian, The Economist, Al Jazeera, The Newsweek, and others. Newsweek's correspondent even participated in the event, as he agreed to replace the head of a Swedish project in the ice-hole. Thus, international visibility, website traffic and sales increase considerably for the event's participants, not to even mention the increase in potential investors who notice the project", shares Olesya Baraniuk, deputy head of ITMO's Technopark.

Finns have quite the untraditional ways to relieve winter depression, starting with the major Slush startup festival which takes place every November in Helsinki and up to the smaller, but nonetheless important events like Polar Bear Pitching in Oulu. Many call this region where many of Nokia's plants and laboratories are located the "Finnish Silicon Valley". Oulu University trains specialists in the field of IT — as of now, ITMO's student also study there on exchange programs.

After Nokia, which was Oulu's backbone enterprise, stopped producing smartphones and focused on software and wireless technologies, many talented specialists lost their jobs. Thus, teaching these engineers to create their own enterprises became a primary task. To do that, the Business Oulu regional development agency created a range of means for attracting attention to local projects. One of them was the Polar Bear Pitching contest, which now grew into an international event.