Elevate cancels 2020 tech festival, secures $5 million to launch new global innovation hub


As Elevate joins the drove of conferences to cancel their 2020 events due to safety concerns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Toronto tech festival is launching a new social innovation exchange offering year-round programming to the Canadian innovation ecosystem.

“I look forward to seeing what the future holds for Elevate.”
– Mayor John Tory

Individuals that purchased an Elevate festival pass can request a full refund before August 31. Elevate is also giving ticket holders the option of donating their ticket funds to four organizations that aim to advance Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour in the tech and innovation ecosystem. Elevate said it will match all donations made to these organizations.

This year’s edition would have represented Elevate’s fourth event in Toronto, with last year’s speaker lineup including Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield and former first lady of the United States Michelle Obama. Founded in 2017, the festival aims to bring together global tech titans, celebrities, and thought leaders to help solve complex social problems.

Elevate is one of many tech events to be cancelled or moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Major gatherings like Uniting the Prairies, Collision Conference, True North, and Startupfest were also forced to either postpone, cancel, or move online.

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Razor Suleman, CEO of Elevate, told BetaKit that although Elevate was exploring options to still hold the festival this year, the team ultimately determined they could not “capture the magic of a festival” through an online experience.

“The social interactions, the accidental collisions, building your network, hanging out with your peers, you don’t replicate that by watching Zoom for three days,” Suleman told BetaKit.

Suleman added that Elevate has still focused on producing free digital content through Elevate Live during the pandemic, noting that while it’s unclear what the world will look like a year from now, the intention is to hold Elevate in person in 2021.

“Toronto’s technology and innovation sector has been experiencing growth for the past few years thanks to organizations like the Elevate Tech Fest who have played a role in increasing our presence on the global stage,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory. “I look forward to seeing what the future holds for Elevate and I am confident that their events will continue to be important to the expansion of our tech and innovation sector.”

Although this year’s festival will no longer take place, Elevate is partnering with the Design Exchange (DX) to launch the Elevate Social Innovation Exchange (Elevate SIX). Elevate SIX is intended to be an innovation hub focused on tacking “the complex social, economic, and environmental challenges” faced globally, and has received $5 million in funding from the City of Toronto and a number of corporate partners. Suleman is the CEO of both Elevate and Design Exchange.

Elevate SIX will offer year-round programming to the Canadian innovation ecosystem, including an accelerator program for ventures addressing issues related to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The initiative will also serve as a community collaboration hub and will provide startups with a digital media lab to help them create content to keep them competitive.

Suleman told BetaKit it was always Elevate’s vision to create a South by Southwest experience for Canada, which prompted the team to create a year-round platform that Suleman said can help more businesses deliver on their purpose rather than simply delivering profit.

“What we heard is now more than ever, Elevate needs to double down,” Suleman said. “Elevate needs to realize its mission of uniting the world’s innovators to solve society’s greatest challenges.”

RELATED: Ahead of Elevate Toronto, Razor Suleman says Canada needs to brag more about its tech accomplishments

Elevate SIX is intended to support over 100,000 social innovators each year, by developing training, mentorship, and support networks. The new hub will operate out of 234 Bay Street, where both Design Exchange and Elevate are located. The space comprises 40,000 square feet in downtown Toronto. Last year, Design Exchange was named as Canada’s headquarters for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

“Entrepreneurs need support to turn their ideas into successful businesses that improve people’s lives and make the world a better place,” said Navdeep Bains, Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science, and Industry. “With Elevate’s phenomenal track record of success, I fully support the launch of a global hub that equips social innovators with the tools and network they need to tackle the complex challenges we’re seeing today.”

Image source Elevate via Facebook.

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle is a Vancouver-based writer with 5+ years of experience in communications and journalism and a lifelong passion for telling stories. For over two years, she has reported on all sides of the Canadian startup ecosystem, from landmark venture deals to public policy, telling the stories of the founders putting Canadian tech on the map.

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