Toronto to host major tech conference with long list of celebrity speakers
It’s been called the “Olympics for geeks,” the “Davos for nerds,” and the “Glastonbury for geeks” and it’s coming to Toronto next week.
Billed as “North America’s fastest-growing tech conference” by its organizers, the Collision conference will see more than 25,000 attendees from over 120 countries descend on the city’s Enercare Centre at Exhibition Place from Monday to Thursday for speeches, social events, and exhibits.
Paddy Cosgrave, the event’s founder, said there will be more than 700 speakers who will share their expertise on everything from fintech to the environment. The speakers list includes CEOs and top executives from nearly every single major tech company, including Shopify, Samsung, and Snapchat, to name a few.
The conference will also host a slew of celebrity speakers that would rival the guest list for a Hollywood awards show, including Seth Rogan, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Timbaland, and Steve Aoki.
“It’s just such an eclectic mix of speakers,” Cosgrave told CTVNews.ca during a telephone interview on Monday. “[There will be] preeminent researchers in the field of artificial intelligence to leading Hollywood actors to one of the most famous DJs in the world.”
Politicians, too, will be there to lend their voice to the gathering with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Toronto Mayor John Tory, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, and federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna all slated to speak.
Trudeau will kick off the festivities with a talk on Monday night about Canada’s plans to remain a “vibrant hub for entrepreneurship,” according to the conference’s schedule.
“It’s exciting bringing together the business and political leaders of Canada,” Cosgrave said. “The Opening Night just showcases that Toronto is not just having a moment, it has arrived.”
Beyond the headliners, Cosgrave said there will be 1,100 startup companies from around the world that will exhibit new technologies for a wide range of industries. He said these entrepreneurs will attract nearly 1,000 of the world’s top investors in search of the next big thing in tech.
“No matter what your interest, what sector your company works in, or what size your company is, you’re going to find pretty incredible companies that can have a pretty radical impact on your business,” he said.
For example, a startup called EPICA, which has developed an AI platform that detects patterns in audience behaviour in real time, is sure to make a splash at the conference. It’s already received more meeting requests from interested investors than any other company.
Another startup attracting interest from investors ahead of the conference is a company called Coord that uses high quality mapping data to allow people to collect, manage, and share parking information in cities and towns.
Cosgrave said attendees can expect to see a lot of attention given to advancements in artificial technology at the conference. He also said there will be plenty of discussion about concerns over data collection and privacy and the actions of some of the largest tech companies.
Cosgrave said he chose Toronto to be the Collision conference’s home for the next three years after he visited the city two years ago and realized it was a hub for technology and entrepreneurs.
“I certainly felt late to the game,” he said. “I just had no idea about what was already going on here. I didn’t even realize the true scale of Toronto and the surrounding areas. The caliber of the universities, the number of companies that were emerging out of Canada... There’s no denying that Canada has arrived and Toronto as a major city in terms of tech.”
Against the advice of many “really, really knowledgeable people,” Cosgrave said he and his team decided to host the conference in Toronto instead of the more obvious choice – San Francisco.
“I think North America has shifted a little bit,” he said. “I think Toronto is not a second Silicon Valley. It’s something very, very different. It’s a pretty exciting place for us to be. We’re the beneficiaries of so much interest in Toronto.”
Cosgrave founded North America’s Collision conference after he saw success with the Web Summit event he created with Dave Kelly in Dublin, Ireland. That tech conference grew from 400 people in 2009 to more than 42,000 in only six years before it outgrew Dublin and moved to Lisbon, Portugal where it now hosts 70,000 attendees.
Cosgrave credits the success of Web Summit and now Collision with the software they developed to create and manage the events. He said their software focuses on making it easy for attendees to network and to navigate the conferences with ease.
“Software can dramatically improve the likelihood of an event succeeding and for an event to succeed, the right people have to meet the right people. When that happens, word spreads, and people don’t just come back, more people come the following year,” he explained.
The networking won’t end when the sun goes down, either. Cosgrave said the Collision conference extends into the evening hours with its Night Summit events taking place at various bars and restaurants in downtown Toronto.
“I think some of the magic as well is what happens at night. The city will come alive with all of these parties and dinners and pub crawls. You just never know who you’re going to bump into,” he said.
For those interested in catching a glimpse of the top CEOs and celebrities in town next week, Cosgrave said Hotel X Toronto will be the place to be.
The Collision conference runs from May 20 to May 23 in Toronto.