After much controversy and criticism, Slush has decided to revoke the winner status of London-based, Russian-born Immigram.
Slush’s official LinkedIn page says, “In light of new information on the extent of the Slush 100 Pitching Competition winner’s operations in Russia, Slush has decided to revoke their win. Slush has requested the participating funds, who are currently going through their individual assessments, to pull their investment into Immigram. Slush is sorry for this oversight. We should have reviewed all participants’ operations more closely before letting them enter the competition,” shares Slush in the post.
“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.
London-based, Russian-born Immigram, an immigration platform for IT specialists and tech entrepreneurs, on Saturday, November 19, crowned winner of the Slush 100 pitching competition, receiving a capital of €1M in investment from top global investors, including Accel, General Catalyst, Lightspeed, NEA, and Northzone, at the Slush 2022 event held in Helsinki.
What does Immigram do?
Co-founded by Russian native Anastasia Mirolyubova and Mikhail Sharonov in 2020, Immigram helps IT specialists move to the UK, settle and connect with opportunities.
Immigram team is building an immigrant-focused end-to-end global mobility platform that helps streamline and automate immigration complexity, thus enabling informed relocation decisions at a lower cost.
Questions and Criticism
However, the decision didn’t go well with the European startup community for obvious reasons. Many have also questioned and criticised the move of international VCs investing in Russian founders during the ongoing war.
We at Silicon Canals reached out to several European startup founders and executives to get their opinion on this controversial decision.
Iryna Supruniuk, Communications at TechUkraine, “Since October 10, via massive missile attack all around Ukraine, Russia has used over 300 rockets, Kamikaze drones, destroying our energy and facility infrastructure (40 per cent damaged or destroyed). Half of Ukraine lives without electricity, water, and hitting – “thanks” to Russian terrorism.”
“At this time Russian startup, founded by Russians, which assists Russians migrating to the UK, has just received the main prize of €1M investment. The official position about war by the founder has appeared just after our post and direct question about it,” she adds.
“The situation is quickly turning into a scandal. It will cause the reputation of Slush and VC funds in the global tech arena. In these circumstances, the organisers should change the jury’s decision. I guess that Ukrainian startup zeely deserves to be the winner (became the top 3 finalists).”
“I appreciate the decision of the Slush team – thanks for taking into account all arguments,” she adds.
“From my point of view, I guess that they lost time and during 3 days (from Friday until Monday) were waiting for, and received huge reputation damage. But for the future it will be quite a good lesson to due diligence the startups more carefully in the beginning,” Iryna concludes.
AIN.Capital, an online publication dedicated to the growing Central and Eastern European tech ecosystem, found that the Immigram, headquartered in London, is hiring for six vacancies in Moscow.
According to the investigation by AIN.Capital, “The data from the Russian job website hh.ru shows that the startup is hiring in Moscow. There are six job openings available for application. The same positions can be found on the startup’s career page, marked as remote.”
“So yes, supporting Russian projects during the full-scale war launched by Russia, which has also caused immigration problems and energy crises, looks like a deeply controversial decision,” they added.
Movens Capital is a venture capital firm focused on Central European tech companies in AI, fintech, SaaS, and marketplaces.
Criticising the decision, Yaroslav Krempovych, Senior Associate at Movens Capital, says, “Just yesterday, Russians launched ballistic missiles against the city of Dnipro, killing over 20 people. Only two days ago, Russia launched more than 100 missiles, further devastating Ukraine’s critical civilian infrastructure and leaving millions without electricity, warmth, or water. In addition, two people were killed in Poland due to the attack.”
He adds, “Meanwhile, Immigram, a software-enabled agency with a 100% Russian team, some of whom still live in Russia, actively assists Russians in navigating complex immigration procedures and managing the migration process to maximize the chances of Russians immigrating to the UK and thus escaping the consequences of economic strain imposed on Russia by international sanctions and business leaving country.”
AVentures Capital is an early-stage venture firm investing in software technology companies targeting US/global markets.
Andrey Kolodyuk, Founder & Managing Partner, AVentures Capital, Chairman, UVCA, says, “It’s not about that Russian startup that got the prize, not Ukrainian one. It is about how it could be possible that a Russian startup focusing on Russians getting visas could be admitted in the first place.”
He adds, “It’s like FIFA sold their souls for football rights to Russia for $40M, claiming that they are not involved in politics and some other bullshit explanation. Again, it’s about ethics and responsibility that are obvious for our community. For example, Investors Europe investors stopped doing business with Russian investors just one week after the full invasion on February 24. After nine months at Slush, investors in the jury still did not get it?”
He states, “Then they should take a train to Kherson to see what real life looks like and wake up! “
He welcomes Slush’s decision to revoke Immigram’s win and says that it’s the “only right decision to make.”
“I am glad that they are awaken now and able to hear other voices and opinions that make them to do what is right in life, as there is no business as usual any more!” he adds.
Sigma Software Group
Alexandra Govorukha, Head of Global Affairs at Sigma Software Group says, “The same week the jury at Slush chose Immigram, founded by Russians, as a winner of the startup competition, Russians sent more than 100 missiles to Ukraine. My home city, Kyiv, was bombed, and critical civilian infrastructure was devastated. Millions of people are without electricity, warmth, and water when it’s -1 and snowy.”
She adds, “On November 17, Russians launched ballistic missiles against Dnipro, killing over 20 people. And right the next day after, Immigram, with a 100 per cent Russian team, which hires people in Moscow, got €1M in investments.”
“How come that one of the most impactful tech events in Europe and respected VCs close their eyes to the truth? While Ukrainian startup founders fight against Russian aggression for the lives of their families and their country’s sovereignty, others seek to assist Russians in escaping the repercussions of their acts of atrocities,” says Govorukha.
She believes that this case could’ve damaged the reputation of Slush and VC funds that chose immigram as a winner. “Luckily, the organisers revoked their controversial decision,” she mentions.
Anastasia Mirolyubova’s stance & death threats
Amidst the controversy, Anastasia Mirolyubova, CEO and co-founder, announced a $100K donation towards the Ukrainian NGO.
She also shared a LinkedIn post saying, “Yesterday was a very important day for Immigram. However, being on one scene with a great Ukrainian startup zeely.app felt bittersweet because of the current war in Ukraine.”
In another LinkedIn post, Mirolyubova shares, “I can not understand all the horror Ukrainians are facing now. But I truly emphasise and stand with Ukraine. We do not support the aggression and the invasion and never have.”
“Since the beginning of the invasion, we waived the payments for our Ukrainian clients(and yes, there are still a lot of them), which helped buy an ambulance for the front. If this is not helping and supporting, I do not know what is,” she adds.
“I left Russia in 2016 partially for political reasons after my close friends were repressed and detained by the Government for speaking up and have never lived there since, nor conducted business or paid taxes. I have been a UK resident since 2016 and have been through all the immigration processes myself before starting the business in 2019, long before the war,” she explains.
She continues, “My co-founder Mikhail Sharonov’s family comes from Odessa, Ukraine, my father is from Tatarstan. But both of us happen to have a red passport. “
She also mentioned getting death threats for winning a startup competition with the wrong passport color.
Currently, Anastasia Mirolyubova is based out of the UK, and Mikhail Sharonov now lives in Georgia.