Collision Conference in Toronto brings investors, partners together with burgeoning tech startups

Among mainstream technology companies, the Collision Conference in Toronto may well have an identity problem, but for 1,500-plus startups from Canada and around the world, Collision is both a well-known and highly impactful entity.

While CES in Las Vegas, Nevada, is largely considered the most influential tech event on the planet, as IFA Berlin and MWC in Barcelona, Spain, tend to mirror CES in terms of focus while South By Southwest (SXSW) in Austin provides a dynamic destination for global innovators as well as the biggest names in television and film, music, thought leadership and comedy, Collision delivers high-level benefits to emerging companies that the other events simply cannot match.

“Here at Collision, we really focus on the next generation startups that are going to be the future unicorns and who are reshaping the world we live in today,” says Katherine Farrell, director of communications for Web Summit, the parent company of Collision.

“Rather than focusing on the corporate or big behemoth tech companies – even though they attend as well — the idea is really to bring the most promising early-stage startups to our event at such a scale where they get to meet each other, connect with the right investors and also get to interact with their peers across multiple industries.”

Essentially, Farrell says, the mantra behind the event is built upon Web Summit CEO Paddy Cosgrave’s ultimate vision of creating meaningful connections.

“That philosophy really does make an impact for our exhibitors to help them on their journey,” Farrell said. “Every year, and with every event, the numbers get bigger and bigger and for good reason – our attendees make connections.

“Uber, for example, got their Series B round funding when Web Summit was in Dublin, and we’ve seen so many startups grow over the years. Without question, our events provide a real space that’s probably the largest gathering of entrepreneurs in the world, I’d say.”

Unlike CES, IFA and SXSW, Collision is one of several global events staged and presented by Web Summit, a Dublin, Ireland-based company which will deliver conferences in Lisbon in November and Rio next May, both entitled Web Summit, plus another event called RISE which will take place in March 2023 in Hong Kong.

After 24 months of COVID-induced digital conferences, the company’s first live North American event in three years roared to life with a vengeance.

“We filled our entire exhibitor slate a month ahead of time and our attendee tickets sold out one week in advance,” Farrell said. “And being back in person, there’s simply no comparison. We were at capacity at about 42,000 in Lisbon in 2021 and while pandemic precautions wouldn’t allow us to get back to our 70,000 at number, we will definitely get there in 2022.”

Collision’s secret sauce is more than just making connections – it comes from adding value. More than 1,200 speakers – including such big names as chess master Garry Kasparov, NBA Star Carmelo Anthony, Toronto Mayor John Tory, author Margaret Atwood, Academy Award winning actress Lupita Nyong’o and chief executives from major tech companies headlined more than a hundred speaker presentations while the show provided several other featured elements including a Startup Showcase, Pitch Competition, Mentor Hours and Round Tables.

But for three consecutive days, it was the entire show floor of the downtown Enercare Centre that served as the primary showcase for 1,557 companies that ranged from Alpha (early-stage) all the way up through the Growth phase, intermingled among brand name companies such as Yahoo!, Wal-Mart, Royal Bank of Canada and more. While other options were available, most of the Alpha and Beta companies exhibited only for a single day, allowing ample time for networking, deal making and education.

From all indications, most emerged quite content. After all, at a price tag of less than $700 per day, why wouldn’t they?

“We found Collision to be extremely valuable just connecting with people and getting exposure to what other companies are doing,” said Omar Butt, Co-Founder of Infāque, a Toronto-based crowdsourced donation platform that makes philanthropy engaging and accessible for the next generation of donors. “This event certainly opened our eyes just here in Toronto alone. Within Canada, there are so many companies who are working in the philanthropy and social good space, providing the same kind of synergies that we have already identified.

“The event also brought great value in terms of connecting with people who are interested, both in potentially investing and also in using our SaaS platform. And the one thing we really learned is our service doesn’t need to be limited to Canada. It’s really a global thing and we’re seriously considering being in Web Summit in Lisbon in November or perhaps next year in Brazil.

“For now, we have a lot of follow-ups to make, just from one day of activity at our booth.”

While roughly 60% of the exhibitors hailed from Canada, more than 130 countries were represented overall, including several from Europe and the United States.

“One of the biggest challenges we face are related to privacy and how we treat user data,” said Martin Stroev, Co-Founder and CEO of AdHash, a Swiss company that enables publishers and advertisers to design and place their own media buys, manage full marketing campaigns, and collect their own accurate real-time metrics, data upon which third-party advertising companies have been capitalizing over the past decade. “I could argue that Europe is at the forefront of that particular movement, but Canada is also facing a similar situation. What we learned here is that there have been some fascinating developments in this country, like the requirement for an official registry of political ads, which will have a major impact on our product.

“Gaining these sorts of understandings fit really well into the narrative of what we’re building at AdHash as we look to create and deliver a more private and more user-centric future of digital advertising.”

Exhibiting from New York City, Nicole Ogloza’s company, Etha, took full advantage of Collision’s digital platform to target hundreds of potential investors, partners and journalists, each of whom could potentially – in their own way – support Etha’s interactive news and social media platform designed to mitigate the highly polarized climate of misinformation, primarily with a political slant. “With more than 35,000 attendees and nearly 800 investors on-site here, we knew we needed to use technology to build and foster relationships,” she said. “In the weeks leading up to Collision, we painstakingly reached out to several thousand people with whom we wanted to engage, and the results were incredible. We’ve connected with so many folks who can help us tell our story”

And what a story that is.

“The main mission behind our company is to create better world by providing extreme transparency to both the news media and politicians and we accomplish this objective through a combination of AI and machine learning,” she said. “While our main focus right now is the U.S., we intend to perfect the technology behind our system. After that, we can then implement to other countries across the globe.

“Without a doubt, attending Collision was a critical first step in that process.”

For Infāque, AdHash, Etha and hundreds of other companies, they depart Collision with a renewed sense of purpose and a backpack full of new connections. And thanks to Collision’s parent company, Web Summit, if they still need more, in just a few short months, they can do it all over again.

Steve Winter and Kenny Fried are WTOP contributors who work for Brotman|Winter|Fried, a division of Sage Communications.

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