North America’s fastest-growing technology conference wrapped up its first iteration in Toronto on May 23 following a four-day showcase of Canadian and international innovation.
The event, previously held in New Orleans and Las Vegas, took over the Enercare Centre in downtown Toronto from Monday through Thursday, and featured a wide range of speakers, from actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen to the founders of Hootsuite, Shopify, Twitter and many more. The keynote stage also played host to the leaders of all three levels of government.
“Toronto has firmly arrived on the world’s tech scene,” conference founder Paddy Cosgrave said during Monday night’s opening event. Mr. Cosgrave explained that Canada’s humility had previously kept the city’s size and influence in the technology industry under the radar. “It had never dawned on me just how big Toronto actually was,” he said.
The big city played host to a big conference, featuring five main stages (and about a dozen smaller stages), 700 speakers, 1,100 startups and more than 25,000 attendees. With no possible way to see, do, and experience it all, here are a few of the biggest takeaways from the event.
The tech industry needs to stop breaking things
Not long ago, conferences like Collision prominently featured tech evangelists patting themselves on the back for their world-saving innovations. In recent years, however, the technology industry has lost some of its lustre, and the old industry mantra of “move fast and break things” has been met with more caution, and a new sense of responsibility.
From hacks and privacy breaches to environmental responsibility and employee burnout, Collision made no attempt to hide the growing concerns that surround the sector. Instead, they were openly discussed in conversation both on stage and off.
Other talks touched on employee burnout and mental health, corporate social responsibility, and the digital war against the anti-vaccine movement, among others. In fact, one of the conference’s main stages, Planet: Tech, was entirely dedicated to discussing ways the tech industry can return to its previous position as a beacon of progress and hope, and included speakers from the Plastic Pollution Coalition, Oceana and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.
Pro tip: The tech industry used to be seen as a solution to many of the world’s biggest problems, but it’s increasingly being viewed as the cause. As a result, startups and industry giants are expected have a social mission or higher purpose baked into their business plan.
Diversity and inclusion take centre stage
When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked to provide his “elevator pitch for Canada” on opening night, he began by citing the country’s diversity and inclusivity as its main competitive advantage.
“We’re at a time where big countries around the world are closing themselves off more to immigration, at a time when Canada is realizing we need to stay open and draw in the best and the brightest from around the world,” he said. “It’s not just a moral, right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do. Diversity and resilience go together.”
That mantra was carried through the event, which featured attendees from more than 125 countries worldwide, nearly half of whom were female. Furthermore, one-third of all speakers and almost as many investors at Collision were women, according to conference organizers.
Pro tip: Diversity and inclusion has evolved from an afterthought or social responsibility initiative to an indicator of success and a strong competitive advantage.
A conference for startups and giants
Billed as a conference for disruptors, the event nonetheless included speakers, exhibitors and sponsors from many of the worldʼs biggest tech companies, who spent much of their energy communicating how theyʼre following the startup playbook of innovation, or partnering with other, more nimble players in their industry.
Pitch competitions and showcases tailored to the startup community were complemented by heavily attended keynote addresses from executives representing major companies such as Samsung, Sony, GE and Microsoft.
Similarly, the densely packed startup exhibitor space on the conference floor provided attendees a considerably different experience than the large interactive displays offered by household names that included Royal Bank of Canada, Siemens, Interac, Cisco, Amazon Web Services and others.
As Mayor John Tory argued in his opening night address, Toronto’s tech industry isn’t just booming because of the strength of its homegrown startups, but as a result of access to enthusiastic partners from well-established adjacent industries, such as finance and health care.
Pro tip: You don’t need to be a startup to be a disruptor, nor a Collision speaker or exhibitor. While the event strives to celebrate the startup community, it also welcomes big industry players that are focused on innovation.