Paddy Cosgrave has heard his conference referred to as the “Davos of tech” before, but the CEO of Collision says there are at least two things that differentiate it from the World Economic Forum.
“We’re not in the Swiss Alps — and poor people are welcome at our event,” Cosgrave joked to the audience at the Toronto Region Board of Trade’s 131st annual meeting Thursday night, where he discussed his controversial decision to move Collision from the United States to Canada this coming May.
Initially developed as a North American equivalent to the Web Summit, one of the largest startup events in Europe, Collision has become biggest gathering of investors by several orders of magnitude, according to Cosgave. As it began to become too big for its base in New Orleans, however, he said he realized the success is due in part to the fact that it’s no longer a place for entrepreneurs to connect with venture capitalists.
“Over the last number of years something has changed, and that’s the participation of C-level executives from some of the largest companies in the world,” he said. “We’ll see CMOs of biggest banks, CIOs of the biggest car companies in Germany, and they travel thousands of miles to spend the better part of a working week in a place like Toronto.”
The enterprise interest in the innovative companies showcased at Collsion made it a highly attractive event for a number of cities that want to position themselves as technology hubs or superclusters.
“We seemed destined for San Francisco and many people were surprised,” Cosgrave admitted. “I was told by Americans in Dallas that Dallas was the most important city in the world, or by people in Texas that Houston was the centre of it all.”
Toronto wasn’t really even a candidate until Cosgrave says he was “stalked” by former Canadian diplomat Sunil Sharma, who had attended the Web Summit several years ago. At Sharma’s behest, Cosgrave travelled to Toronto and agreed with what he admitted was some reluctance to meet with its mayor, John Tory. That’s when everything changed.
“Almost instantly connections started arising,” he said. “(John Tory’s) daughter had gone to University in Dublin. His chief of staff had gone to my school, Trinity College. All of a sudden we were talking about all these restaurants, pubs, names of people. It sounds insignificant, but sometimes those human connections were incredibly important.”
The Collision team was also wooed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who sent a letter and who was on hand Thursday night at the TRBOT dinner. Political forces outside of Canada may have also played a role, Cosgrave hinted.
“The playing fields have shifted very firmly in the world . . . for Toronto it may have been accelerated by circumstances over the last 24 months,” he said, suggesting the U.S. federal election of President Donald Trump. “Diversity is really one of your biggest strengths . . . at a time when other countries are turning their backs on openness, it’s an incredible opportunity for Canada.”
Collision will run May 20-23 in Toronto and feature Linda Boff, CMO of GE, Shopify CEO Tobias Lutke and Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter and Medium, among others.