Home Entrepreneurs Winner of Slush’s pitch competition sparks outrage

Winner of Slush’s pitch competition sparks outrage

by Ozva Admin

Members of Europe’s start-up community criticized the decision to award first prize in a prestigious startup competition. to a company with Russian founders helping tech talent relocate to the UK.

As a Slush 100 winner, Immigram will receive a €1 million investment from five major VCs: Accel, General Catalyst, Lightspeed Venture Partners, NEA and Northzone. One of the other finalists to meet investors on stage Friday was a Ukrainian startup called Zeely.

Critics have called the decision deaf as it came the same week that Russia carried out a massive bombing raid on Ukrainian cities. Many also questioned whether international venture capitalists should invest in the Russian founders during the ongoing war.

Investors are now doing due diligence on Immigram and vetting founders’ backgrounds, as is common practice after a clearance is issued for any startup. term sheet – and if anything adverse is revealed as a result, Sifted understands that the investment will not proceed.

Anastasia Mirolyubova, co-founder and CEO of Immigram, says her startup went through an extensive selection process and won the competition with a bang.

I am being judged by where I come from.”

“There were four or five levels of judgment. We went from more than 1,000 applications [to a shortlist of] 100 and then 20. And then we won, the business won, the idea and the traction and what we’re actually doing. And now I’m being judged for where I come from and where I don’t live,” she tells Sifted.

Slush said in a statement: “Slush supports Ukraine and condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine. For this reason, we do not partner with Russian companies or funds, nor do we accept applications from startups or from investors in Russian-based companies.”

Anastasia Mirolyubova, CEO of Immigram, on stage at Slush 2022
Anastasia Mirolyubova, CEO of Immigram

The winner

Immigram was founded in 2019 by two Russians, Mirolyubova and co-founder Mikhail Sharonov, who both moved to the UK in 2016. It incorporates in the UK and helps tech talent from over 10 countries including Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, India and the US., Apply for the UK Global Talent Visa. The company says applicants from Eastern Europe make up a minority of its users.

Both co-founders have Russian passports, but Mirolyubova has been based in the UK for seven years. Sharonov currently lives in Georgia.

mirolyubova said on LinkedIn on Sunday that for the past two days he had “started receiving death threats and wishes, for legitimately winning a startup competition with the wrong passport color.”

“The last few days have been very, very hectic and very hard for me. But most of the comments I get are from the Ukrainians, who are currently in a very bad position because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” Mirolyubova tells Sifted. “I can understand your feelings. But the trend that is happening is to go more towards xenophobia and racism.”

She tells Sifted that Immigram “does not support the Russian invasion of Ukraine.””. In his LinkedIn post, he also said that Immigram had waived payments for Ukrainian clients and helped buy an ambulance for the front line.

the investors

One of the investors confirmed to Sifted that they are now in a due diligence process with Immigram, which should be completed in a week or two.

They understand that Immigram does not have an entity in Russia, nor any employees based there, and has not received any money from Russian investors, which was also confirmed to Sifted by Immigram. The VC would not go ahead with the investment if due diligence revealed that any of that was not true.

The outrage began after AIN.Capital, a CEE tech news site, published images from a Russian job site that appears to show Immigram hiring for positions in Moscow.

Mirolyubova says that the company, which has a remote team, hires IT specialists in Russia, but only on the condition that they relocate to another country, such as Georgia, Armenia or the UK.

Slush said the jury would thoroughly review the winner’s background, but declined to comment further on the selection criteria used in the competition. Mirolyubova says this is the regular process and a jury would “never” find anything that would undermine her decision.

Sifted sought comment from Northzone, Lightspeed, General Catalyst, Accel and NEA over the weekend but did not hear back by time of publication.


The decision to award Immigram has been heavily criticized by the tech community in Ukraine, as well as in neighboring Poland, which has taken in millions of Ukrainian refugees since the war began and provided particularly generous aid for the displaced Ukrainian tech community.

“[The choice of winner is] sponsorship of terrorism, support [for the] the Kremlin regime and the cruel war policy in Ukraine by the Russian Federation,” says Iryna Supruniuk, communication director at TechUkraine, a Ukrainian technology group. “The situation is quickly turning into a scandal. It will definitely cause [damage to] the reputation of Slush and venture capital funds in the global technology arena. In these circumstances, the organizers must change the decision of the jury. I guess the Ukrainian startup Zeely absolutely deserves to be the winner.”

Zeely said in a statement that it would be “inappropriate for them to comment on the jury’s decision,” but added that his startup is “in an explicitly anti-Russian position.”

“A terrible and bloody war continues in our country, where our citizens are dying and we do not tolerate neutrality. We must all be unanimous. We are against cooperation with Russia in any of its manifestations, ”he said.

Immigram is helping people to leave Russia, which is ambiguous.”

“Before you invest in a startup associated with Russia, you need to make sure that you are not supporting the regime and that the people you support have a clear reputation and history. Immigram is helping people to leave Russia, which is ambiguous,” says Tomasz Swieboda, a partner at i innovate, a Polish VC, stating that Immigram has been recruiting in Russia and has benefited from Russian press coverage. “This is too much for the international venture capital community to support.”

“The news of his [Immigram’s] employment in Russia naturally raises the question of why we are supporting the Russian tech scene at this time,” says Mateusz Zawistowski, managing director of ffVC, a US venture capital company with operations in Poland that started a fund directed only in Ukrainian startups.

“Slush is an event that represents European technology and unfortunately Russia is a direct threat to these values. I am disappointed in the due diligence carried out by these high-profile investors, especially given the current escalation of Russian violence in Ukraine, including actions against civilians,” he added. (Numerous side events in sleet were held in support of Ukraine.)

“I don’t want to judge whether it’s a good deal or a bad deal,” says Borys Musielak, founding partner of SMOK, a Polish VC. “But to recognize a Russian startup, which is currently hiring in Moscow, at such a serious event, to the applause of top VCs…is not just a PR shot in the foot, but above all, a very real shot in the back of the Ukrainians.”

Zosia Wanat is the Central and Eastern Europe reporter for Sifted, based in Warsaw. She tweets from @zosiawanat

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