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Toronto finally has a tech conference. Collision was held this week on May 20 to May 23, and it’s already scheduled for June 22 to June 25 next year. Toronto deserves it. But don’t just take my word for it.

“If you’d gone five years ago to Collision and said, ‘Would you think about coming to Toronto?’ I think they might have said, ‘Well, I’m not sure why I would do that. You don’t have the tech ecosystem here that would justify a conference coming to kind of take advantage of that and have that kind of cross pollination that goes on,'” Toronto Mayor John Tory told VentureBeat. “And frankly, a lot of the tech people from around the world might not be very interested in coming to Toronto, at least not on the base of its tech ecosystem. And I think that has changed.”

Ah, but of course the mayor of Toronto would tell you that, Emil. He’s the mayor! I figured you might think that, so I also talked to the other side.

“Collision is riding the wave of Toronto,” Web Summit CEO Paddy Cosgrave told VentureBeat. “Toronto is here already. It’s arrived. If Collision never came here, would it make much of a dent? I’d argue, possibly not. If anything does come of it, that’s a great incidental benefit. But Toronto had already arrived before we came here. I just don’t think a lot of people elsewhere in the world had seen it with their own eyes. That’s my view. We’re riding the wave. Collision is not going to make the wave bigger. If it shines a spotlight on Toronto, OK, great.”

Some numbers

If you’re not quite sure why Collision arriving in Toronto matters, these figures might help.

From the mayor’s office:

  • 25,000 attendees — the annual goal for Collision, which is North America’s fastest growing tech conference.
  • $147 million in tourism — expected to be spent as a result of the event. The city, led by Tory and Tourism Toronto, successfully pitched Collision to move from New Orleans to Toronto for the next three years. Collision “provides a perfect opportunity to promote Toronto as a place for global investment, encourage trade opportunities with Toronto companies, and attract new talent to work for Toronto companies.”
  • $750,000 per year host fee — the city has asked both the provincial and federal governments to help contribute. So far, the other two governments have yet to commit funding.

And from the Collision side:

  • 25,711 attendees, from 125 countries. Collision has hit its target for year one. After Canada and the United States, the top attending countries come from across the world, including Germany, Brazil, India, and Nigeria.
  • 45.7% of Collision attendees are women. This has been the best result the company has had so far, compared to last year’s Collision in New Orleans, where the percentage was 42.5%. The gender ratio even improves upon the company’s flagship event, Web Summit, where in 2018, 44.5% of the conference’s attendees were women.
  • 1,100 startups, 83% more than last year. Startups attending Collision come from over 60 countries. Top represented countries include Colombia, the Netherlands, the U.K., and Mexico. The top three industries were AI, fintech, and enterprise software.

(Collision is huge, but Web Summit is massive — it attracts some 70,000 attendees.)

See you next year?

I also spent a lot of time talking to the conference’s attendees, from tech giants to startups to VCs. The overall feeling was excitement. Those who live here, or had already been to Toronto, were happy to see everyone acknowledge Toronto’s — and Canada’s — tech scene. Those who were visiting Toronto for the first time were either pleasantly surprised or completely shocked. Collision was indeed shining a spotlight.

The plan is for Collision to stay in through 2020 and 2021. I pressed Cosgrave on whether another city could change his mind.

“No, no. Three-year deal. Definitely. The question is after, do we move back down south? Or do we make Toronto a more permanent home?”

Tory will of course be pushing for permanence.

“I see no reason why we can’t be one of the tech capitals on Earth. I think we already are, but I think that we can be solidified in that position as one of the top five tech capitals in the world.”

ProBeat is a column in which Emil rants about whatever crosses him that week.


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