Slush revokes €1 million prize from Russian founded-startup after international outcry

Yesterday Immigram, a UK-based but Russian-founded tech immigration platform, opted out from the Slush competition, just a couple of days after winning the first prize

Almost simultaneously, Slush formally revoked the win “in light of new information on the extent of [Immigram’s] operations in Russia.”

The attribution of the Slush prize to a Russian-founded startup had shocked a number of pro-Ukrainian activists, spurring an international controversy. 

Among Immigram’s accusers arguments were the following:

  • Immigram is essentially instrument for Russians to escape the consequences of international sanctions imposed on Russia by emigrating to the UK;
  • Immigram continues hiring staff from Russia, potentially paying taxes in this country and thus fuelling Russia’s war effort;
  • Some of Immigram’s investors in a Seed round that took place earlier this year were of Russian origin. 

A source close to the judging panel told TechCrunch that “the judges’ decision not to go ahead with the investment had nothing to do with the founders having Russian passports, but because too many of its customers, outside of the other countries it serves, were from Russia.” Thus, Immigram is “indirectly getting more traction because of the war, since most of the applicants on their platform are currently Russian.”

Some critics went as far as equating the Slush award to Immigram to “support of genocide,” casting shame on both Slush and the investors who backed the competition.

Russian or pro-Russian?

On its side, Immigram underlined that its two Russian co-founders, Anastasia Mirolyubova and Mikhail Sharonov, had left Russia several years ago, and that they should not be “judged” by where they came from and no longer live. 

The Immigram team has “Ukrainian, Tatar and Polish,” not only Russian roots, the company argued.

The company denied that the majority of its users came from Russia, and claimed it had supported its Ukrainian users soon after the Russian invasion began by offering them free access to the service. In addition, Mirolyubova announced she would donate a fraction ($100,000) of the Slush prize to Ukrainian NGOs.

Immigram supporters also argued that an emigration tool like Immigram, when used by Russians, contributes to empty this country from valuable IT workforce. As a mater of fact, hundreds of thousands of IT people have left Russia since February 24. 

“Services like Immigram can help to fail dictatorships in the long term. Technology makes a huge difference in the modern world, including warfare. We don’t want Putin’s regime to have access to AI engineers and scientists Immigram helps to move to UK. We want them to contribute to democracies,” said Mikita Mikado in a Linkedin post. 

A successful Belarusian startup entrepreneur and early Immigram investor, Mikado fled his country amid a wave of political repression in 2020. He now lives in Silicon Valley.

In her opt-out statement, Mirolyubova said that Immigram “will continue supporting Ukraine and building a company for millions of talented people who want to move internationally.”

Slush revokes €1 million prize from Russian founded-startup after international outcryRead More
Topics: Events & contests, International, News, Startups
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