New Orleans 2018
The fifth annual Collision conference was held April 30 - May 3, in New Orleans, LA., The event is one of the fastest growing tech conferences in North America, including more than 25,000 attendees and 500 global media. I was in attendance this year and I thought I’d share my trip report for those of you who are curious about the event and were not able to attend.
About The Conference
Collision is an interesting conference and the word “Collision” is an apt description of the structure of the show. Disparate industries, innovators, and investors all bouncing off one another for four days. If they had named the conference “Chaos”, I doubt any first-time attendees would argue. “Collision”, of course, sounds more disruptive and impactful.
There are numerous open-air stages around the perimeter of the trade show floor. Multiple concurrent tracks with back to back presentations on each stage (see adjacent illustration for a complete list of tracks). Ironically, all the sessions seem to have staggered starts and variable durations which makes it a little tricky to plan your itinerary. If you attempt to jump tracks, you find yourself zig-zagging back and forth across the exhibit floor often arriving mid-session to join a standing-room-only crowd.
The majority of exhibitors are early-stage startups, lined-up cheek-to-jowl, row upon row all hoping to meet investors and strategic partners, of which there were many many walking the aisles.
Each startup is given a sign and a 3-foot section of a counter-height island. Dozens of these islands, 18 feet long and five feet deep are organized into little villages throughout the hall, showcasing approximately 150-200 startups each day.
That’s right, the startups rotate out at the end of each day and a new set of startups take the floor the following morning.
Likewise, the conference tracks change daily as well. So, at the end of each day as you are getting a lay of the land, the next morning everything is new and different – welcome to day one all over again!
This show is designed to keep everyone on their toes!
Attending Collision Demands A Strategy
This was my second Collision conference. My previous comments about “chaos”s aside, you may be surprised to learn that I really like this conference. It’s just that there is an awful lot going on and you have to get comfortable with the fact that you are going to miss far more than you can consume. At this conference, you absolutely need a strategy and a tactical plan to maximize your experience. It really boils down to one decision: are you more interested in meeting startups by walking the floor OR expanding your industry knowledge by sitting in on sessions? I don’t believe you can do justice to both.
This year I focused on walking the floor and talking with startups. The occasional sessions that I caught were as much about sitting down as they were about learning — maybe more so if I’m completely honest.
So, what did I see at Collision?
Lots of A.I.
Several trends emerged as I walked the conference floor. Most notably, there was a lot of Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) — everything from calendar automation and lead generation software to marketing automation apps.
A Dearth of Music Tech
Of interest to me, as a Mentor for Project Musing at the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, there was very little music tech at the show. This seemed odd to me given the fact that there was an entire track dedicated to music called, “Music Notes”.
I was impressed with the diversity of the startups in attendance. Collision attracted entrepreneurs from all over the globe including, South America, Europe, and Asia. In fact, Taiwan had one of the larger booths at the show showcasing their national fare.
A Few Big Players
The two largest exhibitors in attendance were IBM and AWS both vying for the role of trusted partner to fledgling tech startups.
Too many of the businesses that I saw seemed to be based on a clever solution in search of a market. Not to say these markets do not exist, but they certainly need to be cultivated. And there is no doubt that developing a new market is a much bigger challenge than creating a business to address an existing market. Likewise, many of the entrepreneurs I spoke to seemed to be blindly attached to their ideas and I couldn't help wondering if or how they had validated the market demand.
A Lone Wolf
I was surprised to meet one technical service business startup buried amidst all the other tech startups. Definitely, an anomaly at this show as investors are typically not interested in service businesses. Curious about their motives for participating, I spoke to their CEO. He admitted he was not looking for funding. He was trolling for customers! It was a pretty clever, wolf in sheep’s clothing strategy, as many of the companies in attendance could benefit from their services.
Layered on top of all this is a Startup Pitch Competition – back-to-back CEO pitches throughout the week. Going into Thursday, May 03, the dozens of PITCH contenders had been narrowed down to three finalists: ShelfEngine, Torch.io, and Selery. In the end, conference attendees voted Torch.io #1 and winners of Collision PITCH 2018.
Each night, the conference scheduled Night Summit – basically a pub crawl designed to introduce attendees to different areas of New Orleans. Lots of fun and revelry, which is code for people having a little too much fun.
One evening, I met up with my friends from coParenter in the French Quarter. CoParenter is a past client of MojoMediaPros and Collision 2018 PITCH Semi-finalists. It was great to catch up. We had some tasty seafood and listened to a lot of good music.
A word about the Collision app...
I don't recall attending an event where the attendee mobile app was so critical to one’s experience. The Collision conference app provides a robust set of features by necessity – but with that feature set comes complexity which requires some investment of time to master. Future attendees would be wise to familiarize themselves with the app well in advance of the event. Learning the app on-the-fly may prove challenging.
I like the fact that the app allows you to cross-reference your contacts with attendee contacts for matches. It also allows you to scan attendee badges to add contacts to the app. There is a built-in chat app and a personalized schedule builder. With a little practice, the app becomes critically useful. I think the conference would be advised to create a demo/tutorial video to familiarize attendees well before the show.
Once again, my suggestion to future attendees is to dig into the app as early as possible and get comfortable with it, otherwise, you may find it very challenging to be learning on the fly during the show
Collision is unique among conferences I have attended (many hundred over my career) and a good conference to attend if you’re thinking about starting a business or looking for capital. There’s plenty of content to inspire you and thousands of entrepreneurs and investors walking the floor providing both formal and informal opportunities to do business and seek mentorship.
Footnote about Collision 2019
It was announced that Collision 2019 will be held in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, a little later in May. Here’s a link to the announcement. If the notion of missing out on Jazz Fest disappoints you, fear not. New Orleans is already planning an InnoConf, an innovation conference to be held the week of Jazz Fest in 2019.
For past articles by Steve Lomas, visit Digital Bits at blog.stevelomas.me.