How we set the ice on fire from the beginning

You might wonder how any sane person would come up with an idea of having a pitching event during the winter in a Nordic country, outside, in an ice hole. WHY?!

It all started in 2013 in the prosperous and promising city of Oulu. Winds of change were blowing and major tech companies, like Nokia, were shutting down entire units resulting in large volumes of talented people left without a job. These former employees were capable of creating world class products, so lots of start-ups were established, and they were looking forward to conquer markets globally. The problem, however, was to find a way to stand out in global competition. How could investors know about these start-ups? Oulu is not like Silicon Valley, though we have something else – amounts of high tech know-how combined with own way of doing things and innovative atmosphere. These things can lead Oulu to gain a position comparable to Silicon Valley in people’s minds. But the question remains, how?

Another major problem the start-ups were facing was their way of pitching their ideas. The products were great but very technical and complex, so it was necessary to coach the start-ups to adjust their talk to a way that didn’t contain too much technical describing, so any listener would understand the idea. It’s harder for companies to get help, if a product and the problem it solves are not presented in simple, interesting and understandable way. The companies were in need of a small encouragement to cut to the chase and present only the essential in their pitching.

 Jury on action.   ©   Bruno Posa 

Jury on action. © Bruno Posa 

At the time media wrote about Oulu with a quite negative tone, as if all hope had been lost because of the massive lay-offs that Oulu was facing. But in Finland we have this thing called “Sisu” –  something so great and unique, typical to Finnish people, that it can’t even be translated fully. Perseverance. Not giving up no matter how hard the circumstances get. Oulu was getting a cold shower, and that is exactly why it was even more important than ever to show that we still have world class talent in here and no tendency to stay in despair.

The idea of Polar Bear Pitching got its origin from Business Kitchen, universities’ entrepreneur hub that works as a community and as a location bringing together people from numerous fields of study and industries. University of Oulu, Oulu University of Applied Sciences, BusinessOulu and Business Kitchen have succeeded in creating together inspiring circumstances and innovative atmosphere where ideas are free to mingle, swap and take new forms in order to create something unique. The Polar Bear Pitching is a good example of what happens when there’s combined innovative people, trust for crazy ideas and tools and freedom to make things happen.

 In cooperation with Midnight Pitch Fest the idea of a new kind of pitching event was made into reality. What was originally supposed to be a small event with local companies, suddenly attracted attention widely. As the word spread about a pitching event having no time limit, with a minor rule of pitching while standing in a freezing ice-built-hole, the hype got real. The organizers understood that this is something that needs to be done in a way bigger scale than originally intended.

Few months later, in February 2014, the first Polar Bear Pitching event took place, with much more still to come. We have only scratched the surface of what Polar Bear Pitching can be. A phenomenon. Fun and exciting. An event that connects people and doesn’t leave anyone cold.


 The mascot J-Bear warming up.   ©   Bruno Posa.

The mascot J-Bear warming up. © Bruno Posa.