Slush 17: Answering the Call for Solvers

Photo credit Anrietta Kuosku, Slush

Every year thousands of future-seekers make the pilgrimage to Finland to catch a glimpse of the “next big thing.” Held in the Helsinki during the middle of winter, the aptly-named Slush is Northern Europe’s largest tech event, and never disappoints those who make the trip. Originally a student organised event, Slush has rapidly established itself as an essential date in Europe’s business calendar. 

This year’s event was particularly special, marking both the 10th anniversary of Slush itself, along with 100 years of Finland’s independence. With over 20,000 attendees and featuring some of the world’s biggest tech companies, entering Slush is akin to stepping into the future. Anyone just expecting hot new developments in blockchain or drone technologies, however, were in for a surprise. Whilst these could be found in abundance, research science-powered innovations and “disruptive” healthcare solutions made their way onto the agenda.  

Being a year defined by milestones, Slush took the opportunity to not only reflect on its past but to also look towards the future, with its key theme being “a call for solvers.” Instead of simply focusing on what an innovation does, startups and entrepreneurs should be encouraged to think bigger by considering the broader effect they’re having on society. With this in mind, health and science based solutions resonated the most, with the potential impact of their successes heralding profound implications for everyone.

Some of the highlights from this year:

  • Al Gore opened proceedings by posing the question: “Can we change?” If we truly hope to make society sustainable, we need to harness innovations in ways that drive positive change. Gore added, “when you go to work for company, you should work for an enterprise or start-up that is not only about making profits and paying well, but also about making the world a better place.” The organisations answering the call for solvers need to put their wider mission ahead of any personal gain.
  • Indu Subaiya discussed the decentralised future of health, declaring that: “health happens everywhere.” New companies will have prime opportunities to solve major health problems by resolving supply and demand issues, such the shortage of primary care services and the growing requirement for transparent patient data. An underreported issue is that at present only 2% of health apps are actually connected to the medical records of patients. 
  • Naveen Jain championed the use of AI and machine learning in powering healthcare development. Signally out the microbiome as a new medical frontier that demands detailed exploration, he argued that transcriptomic analysis should form a central part of any future medical research that aims to understand how microbes impact on chronic disease development. Proclaiming a change in global systems, Naveen reasoned that, “every industry we know of today will be disrupted… In the future governments are not going to be ones solving our problems.”      
  • Jessica Richman made an impassioned plea to science-based start-ups, encouraging them to involve the public in their company’s research to “advance science as quickly as possible.” Recounting her experience of building a business solution from a mixture of citizen science and academic research, she explained how by making your studies open to public participation, you can increase data sets and reproduce results faster. 
  • Vinod Khosla explained how the mindset of disruptive thinking is driving societal change, using the example of how science-based innovations offer a solution to the suitability crisis in global food production and how AI systems can power healthcare diagnostics. “The practice of medicine is better than it has ever been… But the science of medicine is only now just becoming possible.”  
  • Muhammad Ammad-ud-din presented as a finalist in the Skolar Award science pitching competition. He proposed using machine learning to power the personalised treatments of cancer. He argued that, “a doctor alone can’t analyse all the available biological information to choose the optimal treatment for cancer patients. The answer might lay in big data.”    

Nightingale’s CEO Teemu Suna was one of the keynote speakers on the Slush y Science stage. Answering the call for solvers, he explained that “it’s not a question if healthcare should change, rather it’s fact that it needs to change.” The current system is focused on treating diseases rather than preventing them, an expensive contradiction that is unsustainable in light of the current challenges facing healthcare today. 

“Instead of treating those who jump off the cliff, why not prevent them from falling?” Teemu described Nightingale’s solution, a low-cost and high-tech blood testing service that can be implemented for the benefit of everyone by using it to replace cholesterol tests in current use worldwide. 

If Slush 2017 proves anything then, it’s that the solutions to the world’s problems are closer than ever, but to realise them it’ll require implementation, will for change, and plenty of research-based scientific evidence.

Here’s to all our fellow solvers answering the call!