With Collision nearing a one-year Toronto extension, efforts are mounting for a West Coast alternative

Vancouver skyline
Vancouver group advocates for Collision, as SAAS NORTH organizers look to offer a locally run alternative.

With Collision’s long-term future in Toronto still uncertain, BetaKit has learned that a group is exploring the possibility of pitching the major North American tech conference to come to Vancouver.

Collision 2023, which kicks off later this month, is currently set to be the annual tech event’s last outing in Toronto. As BetaKit has reported, the conference’s future in Canada beyond this year is in doubt following former Toronto Mayor John Tory’s departure, amid an increased request for public funding to facilitate the event’s stay, competing bids from other cities, and financial pressure on both the City of Toronto and Ontario and federal governments.

Amid ongoing negotiations for a deal to extend Collision’s stay in Toronto, efforts are mounting for a possible Vancouver bid for the conference.

Amid ongoing negotiations for a deal to extend Collision’s stay in Toronto, efforts are mounting for a British Columbia (BC) alternative, as multiple Vancouver organizations connected to Frontier Collective have begun exploring the idea of luring Collision to the city.

Web Summit (the parent company of Collision), Destination Toronto, and the City of Toronto have all previously declined to comment on Collision’s negotiations with Toronto.

Speaking with BetaKit on condition of anonymity, a source familiar with negotiations indicated the conference is near an agreement to remain in Toronto for another year at an amount and terms similar to Collision’s previous $6.5 million CAD yearly deal. This total would represent a far cry from the north of $40 million over three years that BetaKit has reported Collision has previously sought to stay.

As BetaKit has reported, other sources had indicated that Collision and Web Summit co-founder and CEO Paddy Cosgrave recently communicated to the Toronto tech community the conference was set to return on a “one-year bridge.”

Even if that one-year Toronto extension for 2024 comes to fruition, Collision’s future in Toronto—and Canada—beyond next year is still up in the air.

As some jockey to keep Collision in the country, while others, including Startupfest founder Philippe Telio, argue that the conference’s increased asking price to stay is too high, Frontier Collective and affiliated groups have started publicly and privately rallying support for a potential Vancouver bid for Collision.

Frontier Collective is a Vancouver innovation ecosystem advocacy group. The organization’s website lists 35 founding partners, including Destination Vancouver, the Vancouver Economic Commission (VEC), the Business Development Bank of Canada, Innovate BC, Panache Ventures, Dapper Labs, Unbounce, and Daily Hive. Casey Lau, head of Asia for Web Summit’s RISE conference, is also notably listed as a Frontier Collective member.

RELATED: Mayor Tory’s departure, competing bids, and financial pressure on province and feds place Collision’s future in Canada in doubt

Since the publication of BetaKit’s original story noting Collision’s uncertain future in Canada, some members of Frontier Collective have made public statements expressing interest in bringing the conference to Vancouver.

Daily Hive co-founder and CEO Karm Sumal published an opinion piece arguing that “bringing Collision Conference here is an incredible opportunity that we cannot afford to miss,” while Frontier Collective co-founder and COO Kassandra Linklater has asked on LinkedIn whether Collision is the “NXNW Vancouver has been looking for?”

Multiple sources have indicated to BetaKit that the notion is more than a public question at this point, with ongoing conversations among stakeholders behind the scenes about exploring a pitch for Collision as part of a push that has garnered the attention of the City of Vancouver and the Government of BC.

A source told BetaKit that the full list of Vancouver ecosystem and consortium partners exploring a potential bid to bring Collision to the city will likely be announced next week.

“Bringing Collision [to Vancouver] is an incredible opportunity that we cannot afford to miss.”

“Vancouver is having its moment and we want to make sure that the ecosystem that has blossomed here in the last several years has the infrastructure it needs to succeed,” Linklater told BetaKit in an interview. “Whether it’s going to be Collision or another international event, we want to make sure Vancouver has its presence on a global stage.”

VEC CEO Eleena Marley noted that “key players” would still need to come together in order for a formal bid to be assembled. “[We’re] excited to see how those conversations go, but it is early days,” Marley told BetaKit in an interview, emphasizing that the organization remains “very committed” to exploring the possibility.

James Raymond, senior manager of research at VEC, told BetaKit that “It comes down to the numbers and economic impact, but we’re doing everything we can to make sure Vancouver can put its best foot forward.”

BetaKit requested economic impact projections for an event of Collision’s size coming to the city, but Destination Vancouver did not provide them by publication time.

For his part, Sumal argued in his op-ed that Collision could be a catalyst for economic growth in Vancouver and a boon to the city’s innovation and small-business communities, hailing Collision’s commitment to promoting diversity as aligned with Vancouver’s values.

RELATED: SAAS NORTH producer reveals new Vancouver-based INNOVATEwest tech conference

“Beyond the economic and societal benefits, Vancouver needs a gateway to the international community,” he said.

Other notable Vancouver-based innovation events include the volunteer-run Vancouver Startup Week, currently running until June 9, and SAAS NORTH producer Cube Business Media’s TechExit.io, which was held in Vancouver earlier this week and will be hosted in Toronto later this year. But with both the BC Tech Summit and Traction on hiatus, Vancouver presently lacks a locally-run tech conference for an international audience.

To bridge this gap, multiple other national tech event organizers have explored the possibility of launching a Vancouver event—including Cube Business Media, which BetaKit was first to report revealed a new conference earlier this week called INNOVATEwest set to launch in April 2024. Cube Business Media’s decision to announce INNOVATEwest now, ahead of schedule, was informed by recent conversations about bringing Collision to Vancouver amid the absence of a large-scale tech event in the city.

“The West is lacking a big tent, multi-sector Conference gathering … Something that brings together all of the great tech innovation that’s happening all along the west coast,” Cube Business Media co-founder and senior vice-president David Tyldesley told BetaKit.

Frontier Collective
Various members of the Frontier Collective

“We wish there was a Canadian-led solution that had that global innovation network that was already ready, but since there’s an absence of that currently, we have to explore what’s currently in the market,” Linklater noted.

For those who believe that bringing Collision to Vancouver is the right way to address that gap, 2023 could be a good time for the city to pitch to host the conference in future years. For its part, Frontier Collective plans to rally a Vancouver delegation at Collision 2023 in Toronto this year, while Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim is notably set to speak at this year’s event.

This would not be the first time that Vancouver has explored the possibility of hosting Collision—Vancouver previously pushed for the conference years ago, competing alongside Toronto to bring it to Canada in the first place. At the time, the conference was hosted in New Orleans. However, speaking on condition of anonymity, multiple sources familiar with these efforts told BetaKit that it was ultimately determined that Vancouver lacked the hotel capacity and convention centre space to handle Collision and its growth ambitions.

“There is no [other] facility large enough in Canada,” one source argued. “Toronto is the only place they can do it.”

Multiple sources told BetaKit that Vancouver does not possess the requisite convention centre space or hotel capacity to host an event the size of Collision.

A December 2022 letter obtained by BetaKit, signed by Ontario mayors and chairs of municipalities, also claimed that Toronto is the only Canadian city that meets Collision’s hosting requirements. Sources told BetaKit that the only way around this issue for Vancouver would be for Collision to host a smaller event in the city in exchange for more public investment or hold its conference earlier in the year, rather than in June.

For his part, Raymond acknowledged that Vancouver’s hotel capacity in the summer season—when the city also already plays host to a number of other large events—would need to be negotiated.

Marley argued that doing this would be possible. “My understanding is there is more than enough infrastructure … Vancouver is very well set up to be able to host something of this size from an infrastructure perspective,” she added.

As to Vancouver’s physical convention centre capacity, VEC deferred to Destination Vancouver, to which BetaKit sent multiple interview requests. However, the organization did not make anyone available to speak for this story.

BetaKit also contacted the City of Vancouver for comment on the feasibility of bringing Collision to Vancouver and ongoing efforts to make this happen, but the City did not respond by publication time.

Meanwhile, when reached by BetaKit via email, a spokesperson from BC’s Ministry of Jobs, Economic Development, and Innovation declined to answer questions related to these topics, instead providing the following statement: “BC companies who attend Collision always see it as an extremely valuable experience and a great opportunity to network and meet investors. This conference is of great benefit to Canada and we’d like to see it stay here.”

Feature image courtesy Alejandro Luengo via Unsplash.

Josh Scott

Josh Scott

Josh Scott is a BetaKit reporter focused on telling in-depth Canadian tech stories and breaking news. His coverage is more complete than his moustache.

0 replies on “With Collision nearing a one-year Toronto extension, efforts are mounting for a West Coast alternative”