Collision, one of North America’s biggest startup conferences, will be relocating to Toronto in 2019. The move is another sign of the growing importance of Toronto in the global tech sector.
The annual conference, which is a spinoff of the massive Web Summit conference in Lisbon, is relocating from its current home in New Orleans, The Globe and Mail has learned.
Collision has grown rapidly in recent years, from 1,500 attendees in 2014 to an expected 25,000 this year. The three-day event is geared towards startups and features discussions on a wide range of technology-related topics. The speakers at this year’s New Orleans event, which starts on April 30, include CEOs and presidents of Microsoft, Lyft, Tinder and Oracle as well as celebrities such as Damon Wayans Jr. and Sophia Bush.
The event’s founder, Paddy Cosgrave, didn’t confirm the move to Toronto, but has been publicly musing about the idea in recent weeks on social media, saying in a LinkedIn post that for Collision to grow, it would need to find a “bigger and more globally connected home” than New Orleans.
“A new wave of Canadian founders are building companies not just out of Canada but all over the world. From Shopify to Cloudflare, there’s a new generation blazing a global trail. Google’s AI visionary, Geoff Hinton, is based in Toronto, not Silicon Valley,” Mr. Cosgrave wrote.
“At the very moment when some countries around the world seem to be shutting their borders, when intolerance is on the rise, Toronto stands for something very different.”
The post goes on to explain that some of last year’s international attendees were turned away at the border, and that Toronto Mayor John Tory has been very welcoming to conference organizers, even presenting them with a letter of encouragement signed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
In a written statement to The Globe, Mr. Tory said he was excited that Collision is considering Toronto for their technology festival. “In Toronto they will find not only a great partner that will help them grow their festival, but also a large and vibrant innovation community that is solving some of society’s biggest challenges and can be showcased with the world.”
Toronto has a growing number of startups and is quickly becoming a hub for artificial intelligence through research centres such as the Vector Institute. The city has also landed on Amazon’s short list for a second headquarters, and its waterfront was chosen by Sidewalks Labs, the unit of Google parent Alphabet Inc., to test new urban technologies.
The Collision conference has fans in the tech world, but it also has detractors who point to aggressive marketing techniques that push startups to buy tickets in hopes of meeting potential investors. This year the conference’s standard admission fee is US$895 per person, although there are some cheaper exhibitor tickets.
“I met several people at the startup booths, the ones pitching investors, and it was very clear that the investors that attended weren’t enthusiastic about spending time there or meeting with them,” said Tara Demren, the co-founder of Miami-based food-giveaway startup Bridgit, who attended last year’s event on a free ticket for women in tech. “If I went as a startup trying to pitch myself and raising money, and I paid to be at the startup booth, I don’t think it would have been worth it.”
However, Ms. Demren says it was worth paying for her own flight and accommodations as she was able to expand her network and get feedback on her company. “Those informal connections, you can’t really put a value on it, but that’s what made the whole experience worthwhile.”
For Ms. Demren, and other attendees, the event changed their impression of New Orleans, something Toronto could also potentially benefit from.
“For us it was an opportunity to show people who might not think of New Orleans as a place that embraces the tech industry that we might have a few surprises in that arena,” said Kristian Sonnier, the vice president of communications and public relations for the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Collision was an opportunity for us to show that lesser known side of our city.”