Immigram, a UK-based tech immigration platform, has won the first prize at Slush, Helsinki’s yearly top tech event. The Russian-founded startup will receive €1 million in investment coming from top global investors including Accel, General Catalyst, Lightspeed, NEA and Northzone.
According to CrunchBase data, Immigram had raised half a million just six months ago, earning trust from Joint Journey and Xploration Capital, two funds with Russian roots, and Mikita Mikado, a top Belarusian entrepreneur who fled his country and now lives in Silicon Valley.
The platform helps IT specialists and their future employers, as well as tech entrepreneurs, navigate the complex UK immigration system. It claims to lower applicants’ refusal rates and time/money losses, and to facilitate new comers’ settlement.
Immigram focuses on the UK Global Talent Visa, which is touted as “the only UK visa based on your experience not your job offer.”
Immigram’s co-founders Anastasia Mirolyubova and Mikhail Sharonov are immigrants themselves, having left Russia several years ago.
Does Russian IT emigration harm Ukraine?
Even though the startup announced a $100,000 donation to a Ukrainian NGO, the attribution of the Slush prize to a Russian-founded startup shocked a number of pro-Ukrainian activists and industry professionals.
In a LinkedIn post, Polish VC Yaroslav Krempovych sees in Immigram an instrument for some Russian citizens to “escape the consequences of economic strain imposed on Russia by international sanctions” by emigrating to the UK.
He finds unfair the fact that, “while some startup founders fight and die on the frontlines for the lives of their families and loved ones and their country’s freedom, others seek to assist Russians to escape the repercussions of their acts and inactions.”
According to ‘Olena M.,’ an HR professional from Kyiv, the matter is “absolutely shameful for such an organisation as Slush2022.” Equating it to “support of genocide,” she hopes this award “will have consequences for Slush itself as well as for all the investors who backed this project.”
While Immigram denies having any employees in Russia, its critics point out that the company is still recruiting staff there, with local taxes potentially contributing to fuel Russia’s war effort.
Amid the controversy, Slush organizers stated: “Slush stands with Ukraine and condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine. For this reason, we do not partner with Russian companies or funds or accept startup or investor applications from companies based in Russia.” They added that the background of the winner will be thoroughly reviewed.
Immigram’s critics do not seem to take into consideration the fact that such emigration tools contribute to empty Russia from its best engineers. Hundreds of thousands of IT people have left the country since February 24, which is arguably weakening the local economy.
Update Nov. 21: In an exchange with Sifted.eu, Mirolyubova said that even though her startup had “gone through an extensive selection process and rightfully won the competition,” she was now being “judged” by where she comes from and no longer lives. In an official statement, Immigram reminded that it is incorporated in the UK, has “Ukrainian, Tatar, Polish and Russian roots,” and that it “launched [a] pro bono program for Ukrainian talents when Russia invaded Ukraine.”
Update Nov. 22: Amid the controversy, Immigram opted out from the competition and Slush revoked its prize (read full story)