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From Harsh Circumstances into a Success Story

Polar Bear Pitching is a competition in which entrepreneurs pitch, or in other words, try sell their business ideas to investors – all while standing in an ice hole! The event is held for the sixth time this year and it brings together the entrepreneurs, investors and the general public. Mia Kemppaala, who is behind the original concept of the event, tells how the idea came to be and what it feels like to stand and speak in the freezing ice hole.

The year was 2013 and Mia Kemppaala was annoyed. Nokia had just left from Oulu and there were constant predictions in the media that the city -which had once leaned heavily on the mobile phone technology- would desolate rapidly. At the time, Kemppaala was working for the city of Oulu and the universities’ shared entrepreneurship hub Business Kitchen, where she helped the recently-jobless ICT experts to launch new careers as entrepreneurs. However, because of the complex terminology the entrepreneurs-to-be used while presenting their business idea, it was really hard to hang on. In October 2013 a brilliant idea struck Kemppaala: what if the entrepreneurs were to speak from an ice hole where the chilly water would force them to crystallize their message to include only the absolute essentials?

Kemppaala presented her crazy idea to her colleagues and manager, and was almost sure it would be dismissed immediately. To her surprise, many were enthusiastic about it and as a result of wide collaboration, the very first Polar Bear Pitching saw the light in the spring 2014. ”It became a snowball effect on the whole city of Oulu”, Kemppaala describes.

Instead of a competition, she defines Polar Bear Pitching as a phenomenon that represents how the Finnish never-give-up attitude of sisu, –which stems from the arctic environment- has helped to turn the harsh circumstances into a success story that has united the whole city. The event drew interest from all around the world right away because of it exoticness and uniqueness, and nowadays there are more participants from abroad than from Finland.

Organizing an event that is dependent of the weather conditions and the amount of ice is just a constant chain of surprises after one another. For example it has been so cold that the ice hole froze over again overnight and the organizers were forced to delay the finals to reopen the ice hole with a chainsaw. ”If it was easy, it wouldn’t be for us! Luckily we have learned to cope with the uncertainty throughout the years,” tells Kemppaala, who currently works for Tellus Innovation Arena.

Kemppaala encourages every Oulu citizen to head to Torinranta in the evening of March 13th regardless of their knowledge about the business world. The Polar Bear Pitching final event is open to the public and free of charge and activities such as reindeer rides and dance performance might interest families with children or arts enthusiasts. There will also be magnificent fireworks at the end of the evening. Maybe you’ll also find some inspiration for a business idea of your own!

But what it is like to pitch from the ice hole? ”It was hard to breath in the ice hole at first and I had to force myself to go on and speak. However, the experience was very positive once I realized that I can do this. Afterwards there was a huge endorphin rush and the feeling of having bettered myself was really awesome,” tells Kemppaala.