As the self-described “single most important tech deal-making event in the world”, the Collision conference that just wrapped in Toronto did set records for itself with its broader inclusivity and women’s participation, its explorations of important industry developments such as responsible generative AI, data sovereignty for countries and individuals, new funding and investment sources, and more.
It also served to identify an opening for homegrown industry events that put Canadian start-ups and global tech industry developments into perspective while keeping local support, national sponsorship and government funding closer to home.
Toronto first hosted Collision in 2019; the conference was cancelled in 2020 and held virtually in 2021 due to COVID before 2022’s return to in-person attendance.
The 2023 version reached record participation levels, as Collision Conference Web Summit organizers, based in Ireland, announced. Some 36,378 attendees from 118 countries were at the June 26-29 Toronto event; 41 percent of conference attendees were women and 36 percent of speakers across the 20-plus session tracks were women.
A record-breaking one in three of the well over 1,500 start-up companies – including the PITCH competition winner – have women founders on their teams. Collision also sought to broaden its reach and expand participation with specific inclusivity initiatives, such as the Indigenous Attendee Programme and the Black Innovation Alliance.
Coupled with reports and projections from Destination Toronto, the non-profit agency tasked with boosting the City’s economic health and attractiveness, that the 2023 Collision Conference would bring $77 (CDN) million to the local economy, up from previous in-person years’ economic impact of $43 and $68 million, it’s not hard to see why the conference organizers and city officials happily announced that Collision would return to Toronto in 2024.
“Hosting major events and conferences in Toronto, like Collision, delivers significant economic impact to our local economy and contributes to its vibrancy and appeal to residents and visitors,” said Scott Beck, President & CEO, Destination Toronto, as the announcement was made.
Yet the obvious enthusiasm for and participation in Collision did cause other people working in the Canadian tech industry and SMB ecosystem to question whether the support and attention given to Collision might be extended to homegrown conferences and industry events that also support Canada and its tech start-up community.
That’s because, based on industry reports, hosting the annual Collision event can cost the city as much as $40 million dollars over a multi-year agreement. The stated success of such an investment cannot be ignored, but any number of similar Canadian conferences and concepts could also raise their own bar with such support.
Elevate, the Canadian Tech and Innovation Festival; Mesh, Canada’s transformation and innovation event; the SaaSNorth Conference, Startupfest, aka Canada’s original startup conference; Traction and others among them.
Likewise, the homegrown events could develop a synergistic relationship, even a nationalistic one, that sees them all benefit, rather than a seemingly exclusive even exclusionary scenario that almost arose around Collision and other such events.
Also revealed during Collision was a steady increase in the funding available to Canadian startups. In the first half of 2023, according to capital market research firm PitchBook, Canadian startups surpassed 2019 and 2020 funding levels, up 120 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels. The stated funding value of more than 300 deals struck by Canadian startups so far is $3.2 billion (USD).
As just one of examples to the point at hand for many attendees: A group of female investors, many first-time investors, working with a Canadian firm has achieved a first-round tally of more than $2.2 million in seed funding.
Based in the Toronto-Waterloo technology corridor, Profound Impact Corporation’s AI-powered tool, called Research Impact, helps academic and industry researchers find the perfect funding match. CEO and Founder Sherry Shannon-Vanstone is herself a serial technology entrepreneur with five successful start-ups and exits in Silicon Valley and Canada, including two IPOs and acquisitions. “As the leader of a female-founded company, I am thrilled and grateful to welcome these investors into our network,” said Shannon-Vanstone, who spoke at Collision. “Women need opportunities to invest and grow their portfolios, and I’m proud that so many made the decision to make their first-time investment in Profound Impact.”
Investors will be interested in another women-led Canadian startup at the conference, this one named the winner of the Collision PITCH competition.
Toronto-based hospitality startup Syzl took the event’s top prize, beating out some 500 rival business competitors overall, 10 startups in the semi-finals, and three finalists. All three pitched on Collision’s Centre Stage in front of expert judges from the VC and entrepreneurship space.
Syzl founder Azrah Manji-Savin had attended Collision before, meeting a key developer who would help push her concepts forward. Her expanded team of b2b hospitality marketplace platform specialists returned this year with a more viable offering and refocussed business plan to win top prize.
So the “single most important tech deal-making event in the world” surely is, at least based on some participants’ success and experience at the 2023 Collision conference. Openings and opportunities for more successful Canadian events in the future, more successful Canadian participants, surely exist as well.
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