Collision CEO: American tech firms opening shop in Canada 'deeply unfortunate' for the U.S.
The global tech community flocked to Toronto this week to attend one of the industry’s fastest growing gatherings. Collision Conference has quickly become a hot spot for startup founders, tech executives and venture capitalists.
“I’ve been to most worldwide conferences, but this is just on a different scale,” Mike Woollatt, principal of fund investments and co-investments at Hamilton Lane, told BNN Bloomberg in an interview at Collision.
The attendance numbers, indeed, are impressive: More than 25,000 conference goers from roughly 125 countries. Not bad for an event that launched just five years ago in Las Vegas, before moving to New Orleans. This is Collision’s first time hosting its event in Toronto.
“It’s by far the biggest we’ve ever had by a factor of between two and three. It’s hard to know why, but Toronto is working,” Collision’s founder and CEO Paddy Cosgrave told BNN Bloomberg.
The crowd sizes impressed keynote speakers, such as Medium CEO and Twitter co-founder Ev Williams.
Some attendees, however, initially grumbled about the long lines for registration. Once inside, certain attractions required added patience. Demos from Magic Leap, which makes augmented-reality goggles, proved to be particularly popular.
Collision offers a potpourri of speaker sessions, such as fireside chats with tech innovators, live onstage pitch battles and the latest musings from successful VCs.
“This is a carnival for entrepreneurs,” Toronto-based consultant Sarah Shu told BNN Bloomberg. Shu works with female entrepreneurs who are building new businesses.
“That’s what I’m passionate about. I wanted to come here and talk to as many women entrepreneurs as I can.”
It’s worth noting that nearly 46 per cent of this year's Collision attendees are female, which is the highest it has ever been.
On the first full day of the conference, eager attendees jammed their way into sessions, even staying focused and seated during an ill-timed fire alarm delay.
“We’re all here to learn. I think even the people who are sharing information are learning from the other people here,” Toronto-based lawyer Omar Ha-Redeye told BNN Bloomberg. “It’s an exchange of ideas and I think that’s what makes it so exciting.”
In the midst of the action, Hoame, a Toronto-based meditation studio, offered attendees a moment of zen, sponsored by Siemens.
Giveaways and knick-knacks could be spotted at most trade booths. Capital One Financial Corp. hammed things up, giving away shirts that read “obligatory free t-shirts.”
Cosgrave, who played to the hometown crowd by sporting a Toronto Raptors T-shirt, has previously proven the case for holding large-scale tech gatherings far from Silicon Valley, having also co-founded European tech fest Web Summit, which most recently took place in Lisbon.
“Tech is now the glue that has become part of all industries,” Cosgrave said.
Case in point: WW (formerly Weight Watchers) took the opportunity to announce the launch of a new tech hub in Toronto. “If you’re not immersing yourself in innovation and you’re not looking at how you can continually improve your efforts, you’re not going to move forward,” WW CEO Mindy Grossman told BNN Bloomberg at the conference.
Networking is one of the key reasons New York-based startup founder Farshad Kanji returned to Collision this year, after attending last year’s event in New Orleans. Kanji helps run a business called Selffee, which makes edible food prints for parties and events. “There’s a co-founder I know from Chicago. I don’t see him all the time, so we’re going to connect here.”
As for the tech behemoths in attendance, most seemed locked in and ready to win new business from startups. Cisco Systems Inc., Microsoft Corp., Amazon Web Services and other companies touted their ability to help small businesses grow.
Banks such as Royal Bank of Canada cited their expertise in funding young tech companies, while commercial real estate firm Colliers International Group Inc. pushed the idea of helping startups scale their growth.
Meanwhile, the Canadian government promoted its startup visa program, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau championed during an opening night address, while Calgary presented the slogan “be part of the energy.”
Even St. Petersburg, Florida decided to make its pitch to the global tech community.
“We had gone to some conferences and weren’t seeing much return. So we were looking for some new opportunities,” Andrea Falvey, business development manager at Pinellas County Economic Development, told BNN Bloomberg.
“This is very well run. So far, we’ve had tremendous traffic.”