Burning Man meets TED: Asia gets a taste of Silicon Valley-style tech parties

Slush’s annual week-long event has featured as gaming tournaments, design competitions and speakers like Stephen Hawking and Buzz Aldrin

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 September, 2016, 11:47am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 September, 2016, 11:51am

Three stages, colourful lasers, live performances, video projections, and a secret after party. This is no music festival, it’s a technology event.

Slush, a non-profit movement that originated in Finland, has made a name for itself across the world for annual events that it describes as “Burning Man meets TED.” Speaker presentations, panel discussions, workshops, and pitches are held in a festival-esque setting instead of the traditional conference hall to urge greater engagement between start-ups, venture capital (VC) funds and investors.

“Slush might look like a techno party but this is all about helping the world-conquering founders,” said Olga Balakina, head of global operations at Slush. “The core of the event is experience and excitement. Hence, no white walls, no halogen lamps or boring stands. We want the entrepreneurs to feel like stars.”

Shindigs such as Slush are indicative of the celebrity status being accorded to technology entrepreneurs these days. The life stories of pioneers such as Steve Jobs and Marc Zuckerberg have inspired a new generation of youth to learn code and become innovators, pushing more MBA graduates to shun Wall Street for Silicon Valley.

As tech culture spreads globally, more organizers are betting on a party-like atmosphere to draw crowds and encourage creativity. The phenomenon has long been around in Silicon Valley and now it’s finally crossed the Atlantic to Southeast Asia in a reflection of the region’s booming start-up scene .

With 70 per cent of the population under the age of 40, high smartphone penetration and a flourishing e-commerce market, Southeast Asia holds vast untapped opportunities for venture capitalists, noted David Gowdey, managing partner at Jungle Ventures.

Following successful editions in Japan and China, Slush makes its Southeast Asia debut in Singapore on September 20, with heads of popular local companies such as gaming platform Garena, property portal 99.co and online marketplace Carousell slated to attend the two-day event.

Campus Party is another tech festival eyeing the region. Branding itself as the world’s largest electronic entertainment event, Campus Party intends on expanding into Southeast Asia as well as India next year, marking its first foray into the East.

First launched in Spain seventeen years ago, the week-long affair blends a mix of fun and serious activities, such as gaming tournaments, design competitions as well as a robust speaker list that’s featured Stephen Hawking and Buzz Aldrin in the past.

Good ideas and skills aren’t the sole ingredients necessary to building transformational technology; social connections are also essential and that’s where Campus Party comes in, explained marketing director Tassia Skolaude. A vibrant environment is more likely to propel individuals to action, she said.

California’s SuperHappyDevHouse (SHDH), a self-described “half-hackathon, half-party,” came to Singapore five years ago in an attempt to bring the fun side of Silicon Valley to the local industry.

“Tech parties are more a by-product of a dynamic, inclusive, vibrant tech ecosystem; they are not its progenitors...If and when countries successfully foster their own start-up cultures, tech parties will organically grow,” explained Justin Hall, SHDH co-organiser and principal at Golden Gate Ventures.

These events still need to make more money than they cost to plan, he continued. “Organisers would not come to Southeast Asia if they did not believe that they would be able to make a return on their investment.

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