The Collision Conference is anything but the negative connotation that the name implies.
It is an annual tech conference that brings together disparate industries and attendees to share, learn and discuss new trends and how they affect society.
Despite being a tech conference, it tends to fly under the radar in the product development community—dwarfed by the large national trade shows such as CES (the Consumer Electronics Show) and the Housewares Show. It was not on my 2018 travel calendar at the start of the year. However, I happened to be in New Orleans after finishing my trip on the road trip hack-a-thon called StartupBus and decided to pop in and find out what draws the massive and influential crowd to the conference each year.
Collision is more than a show-and-tell of the latest apps, software and artificial intelligence. It is an inclusive conference that showcases thought leaders and cutting-edge technology from industries that include automotive, connected technologies, retail, marketing and even music with a goal of sharing knowledge, forming new communities and breaking down silos. The 2018 edition welcomed 25,000 attendees representing more than 5,600 companies from over 120 countries—a melting pot of epic proportions.
Big-name speakers, firms
The conference was born from a tech conference in Europe called Web Summit, the first of which was in Dublin in 2009. The original concept was to focus on issues related to the internet and technology. (Web Summit continues annually, with Portugal as the host this fall.) Web Summit spun off an American version of the conference in Las Vegas in 2014, which became Collision. Over time it took on a more wide-ranging program than just web and tech.
This year’s conference featured a massive slate of influential speakers. Former Vice President Al Gore was the keynote speaker, reminding attendees that “For anybody who doubts that we have the will to change, just remember that the will to change is itself a renewable resource.” He was joined by leaders from companies including Walmart, Lyft, Vimeo, Tinder and many more.
I had two primary goals for the convention. I wanted to make some connections with emerging start-ups to see if the team at Enventys Partners could help them with development or marketing needs, and to take in as many speakers and workshops as possible to learn about emerging tech.
One of the great things about Collision is its late start time. Conference goers are encouraged to form deeper connections at the nightly events, so organizers make sure that the schedule supports late nights. I rolled into the conference around 9:30 a.m., headed to the media village for some tea and WiFi, and hit the floor. After talking with a few start-ups, I took a break to go watch my daughter star as a toucan in her first-grade rainforest play via FaceTime. Then it was back to business.
The start-up companies were all given small booths constructed from raw plywood, built out into neat rows. They were categorized into alpha or beta, with alphas being newer/pre-revenue and betas further along. The start-ups were in diverse industries, making it very interesting to chat with each one to hear about their product and story.
For example, my friend Robert Blacklidge was there with his company, Course Align, a data platform to help higher education tune its curriculum to the job market in the same area as a textile start-up. The other interesting part about the start-up area is that the booths get turned over each day, so attendees are greeted with new faces and opportunities daily.
Great off-site networking
The highlights of the conference were the speakers and tech talks. With multiple stages and conference areas, it is impossible to hit all of the talks. Fortunately, most of the speakers were on stage for just 20 minutes, so you could drop in and out easily. I watched Graeme Hackland from Williams F1 racing talk about technology at the pinnacle of motorsport, dropped in on a presentation about eSports and heard a talk from transgender athlete, Chris Mosier.
I also had just enough time to take in two workshops at the Amazon Web Services booth: one about machine learning techniques, another on how to build chat bots.
Although the activities on the conference floor are great, a prime benefit of going to Collision is the after-hours networking. The conference opened with a pub crawl around Bourbon Street the night before the show, followed by events on subsequent nights in the warehouse district, Frenchmen Street, and a show closing happy hour at Fulton Alley. I met a number of media colleagues, start-up founders and investors away from the convention center.
New Orleans proved to be a great host for Collision—but just as Al Gore discussed change in his opening remarks, Collision itself is preparing for a big change. The show announced that the conference will move to Toronto for 2019. Although there will be no jazz music or beignets, the world-class Canadian city will be a great venue for next year’s event.