The Jason Brower Power Hour
Here in Finland, February 28th is Kalevala’s Day – the country’s national epic – and with it a celebration of Finnish culture. Today we also celebrate the concept of Sisu; a term representing the grit and determination Finns have in the face of adversity, both physically and mentally. Our incoming entrepreneurs will need to find their Sisu if they hope to conquer the ice-hole.
We sat down with our very own business-savvy polar bear Jason Brower – better known to some as JBear- to discuss his experiences with Polar Bear Pitching, and how participants can tap into their Sisu!
How did you first get involved with the event, and how much convincing did it take to don the bear suit?
Six years ago I was contacted by some people I knew who worked with Business Kitchen at the university. They were developing this Polar Bear Pitching idea – it was like the first day of putting it together as a group. They said “We gotta do something crazy, what can we do? We can have a mascot, and it will be a massive polar bear for Polar Bear Pitching! It’s the wildest idea we can think of”
They decided they needed somebody who knew business but also had a personality that would work. Somehow, they thought of me. I was called up and they said “Would you like some free tickets to go to Slush this year? The only condition is you have to wear a polar bear suit.” That became the first jump into being JBear. As I said, it’s been 6 years now so, eh… it’s been quite the change!
Over the past several years, how has the entrepreneurial culture of Oulu developed and changed, and do you think the event has influenced it?
Yeah, I really do. When the recession hit, people were pulling back. Companies were pulling back; starting to lay off people. Oulu in particular was hit pretty bad with changes in Nokia. The pitching culture was very young and very fresh back then. It was essentially a bunch of people begging for money: people who didn’t have developed ideas or anything like that. We needed a way to help stand out in that crowd; that’s where Polar Bear Pitching came in. It became not just some fun event where you jump into the cold water, but also about a spirit of pushing through and perseverance. The ice-hole creates a really beautiful symbol of jumping in and facing something that might be scary, but coming out inspired and pushing on.
Fast forward six years – pitching isn’t really the strong hold here, BUT the spirit is still there: perseverance, that willingness to keep pushing forward, Sisu. The people pitching aren’t saying “Uh I need 1 million euro please,” they’re saying “I have this great idea. Nothing is going to stop me. I will be amazing.” The investors are there and they’re happy to hear it, but it’s not so much about getting the investment from the ice-hole. It’s more about showing you have commitment to your product and showing your team you’re committed to the long term.
What are the most memorable moments as JBear?
There’re several really amazing things. When I put the suit on it isn’t like I turn into a bear. I’m JBear: this business guy who knows that if he wears a funky crazy suit to represent PBP, he actually generates business. And that’s a really weird thing to happen, but it does.
I get really cool opportunities, like if there is a celebrity, or a diplomat from another country, or a president of something, I can just walk up. I just walk right up to that person. There’s nothing that really stops me from doing that. For some reason putting on that furry suit makes that change happen. So, when I meet The Dudesons I just walk up to them, and we have fun, and we wrestle around. That’s cool. I make connections, for example: one of the greatest people I know: Riku Asikainen. He’s a busy guy but he’s able to find time for people and really has a lot of heart in what he does as an investor.
In terms of other moments, sometimes it’s just giving hugs and making people smile. It’s those little moments that really make a difference. It’s fun to help lift a city or help lift the people. I’ve been doing it so long now – six years – that whenever I go to Slush people are seeking me out! They’re saying “We get to have our annual picture!” It’s so cool. I have all my photos shared on the cloud, so when my TV is on it will go through the pictures, and it’s so fun to reminisce about all the different people and the lives that were lifted up a little bit that day. It really helps a lot to keep me going with the bear suit.
For startups considering joining next year but are a bit scared of the prospect, how you would you encourage them to embrace their inner Sisu?
Remember it’s not so much about the ice-hole. It’s about committing to push through and persevere in this rollercoaster ride of entrepreneurialism. One day you’ll get what you need, and one day you’ll be begging your family so you can get by. It sure is a rough ride, but it’s worth it in the end. You learn so much, even if you fail. I think that’s the biggest part; people go into that icy water knowing they have a little bit of a risk there, a little bit of failure. But they can also look at that crowd and know those people are there to warm them up, and I think that’s really cool. So if you’re preparing for Polar Bear Pitching next year, think of it that way. Outside of medical reasons I can’t think of one reason someone can’t jump in that water and enjoy the experience.
Finally, for those who don’t have cosy, thick, polar bear fur, what tips would you give them to help survive the ice-hole?
Let’s just say if you’re going in the ice-hole, don’t wear a t-shirt unless it has your logo and you want to get really cold. The shirts usually stick to you, and they start freeze as soon as you get out. Otherwise just bring some can-do attitude and get yourself some layers; you should be fine. For those who are volunteering, you get a PBP hat which is a prized possession amongst those involved. That’s a pretty good hat and it keeps you warm, so keep it close.
JBear is coming to Oulu for our free Polar Bear Pitching events. Join us at the Oulu Market Square, March 12th & 13th. For more information about the events visit https://polarbearpitching.com/program/