Slush’s startup pitch competition transformed into a political nightmare

Usually, the winners of a pitching competition are bathed with accolades, media attention, and applause. After it’s done and dusted, all they have to think about is what to spend that sweet, sweet prize money on.

But, this year, for one startup, things haven’t gone to plan. Immigram — the winner of the Slush 100 startup competition — is mired in controversy due to its links with the Russian tech scene. Not only are the founders Russian passport holders, but it’s also recruiting tech workers to move to Moscow.

This left many wondering why the judging panel decided to invest in a company with such strong links to the Russian business scene. In response to pressure, Slush rescinded the award.


A statement from Slush

Slush released a statement in which it revoked Immigram’s win and requested that the funds pull their potential investment from the startup. But, yes, VCs may still decide to invest in Immigram. At the time of writing, investors on the judging panel have been silent.

Immigram also confirmed on LinkedIn that it is opting out of the Slush competition.“We will continue supporting Ukraine and building a company for millions of talented people who want to move internationally,” the Russian-born company noted in the post.

But let’s take a step back.

Who is Immigram?

Immigram is a B2B SaaS platform enabling employers to attract and retain international talent by guiding them through the myriad of paperwork to enter the different employment markets. 10% of their clients have been Russians. You can check out their winning pitch here.

Judges awarded them a €1m investment from five top VCs: Accel, General Catalyst, Lightspeed Venture Partners, NEA and Northzone.

What has been the response to the victory?

Unsurprisingly, there was a big outcry to the win over the last few days, with many questioning the decision. Investigations into the company by AIN.Capital found that the startup is hiring for roles based in Moscow: “The same positions can be found on the startup’s career page, and they are marked as remote.”