Paddy Cosgrave: Web Summit and Collision Master Connector

Episode 28 Paddy Cosgrave Web Summit and Collision Master Connector

After an exhausting and exhilarating 3 days of Collision, we wrapped up the event with an interview with Paddy Cosgrave, Founder and CEO of Web Summit and Collision, two of the fastest growing tech events in the world.

The event which was hosted in Toronto since 2019 drew attendance of 36,378 from 118 countries in Toronto.

In addition;

  • A record-breaking 30 percent of startups this year this year are women-founded;
  • 41 percent of attendees are women;
  • 36 percent of speakers are women 
  • 1,727 startups and partners from 76 countries and almost 30 industries exhibited
  • CA$188 million has been injected into the Toronto economy over the course of the three in-person Collision events since 2019

We spoke to Paddy about the impetus of WebSummit and the important initiatives to improve representation in tech: The Indigenous Attendee Program and Amplify representing more than 130 startups as part of the commitment to prioritize underrepresented communities. He shared his views on what makes this year different than previous years and why the decision to bring Collision back to Toronto in 2024. Look out for upcoming Collision interviews with emerging and notable founders! Check out the Interview here on Forbes.

Transcript

Hessie Jones

Hi everyone. I’m Hessie Jones. Welcome to Tech Uncensored. This is our final interview for the day and it’s a great closing because we get to speak to Paddy Cosgrave, the creator and I guess the mastermind behind Collision so. Welcome, Paddy.

 

Paddy Cosgrave

Thank you very much. That’s very kind of you. Collision is created ultimately by a team of over 300 people, but I’ll take all the credit you’re willing to give.

 

Hessie Jones

OK, I’ll give you all the credit for now. OK. So, I want a little bit of history because Collision has been phenomenal, I guess, statement here in Toronto for the last so many years. And I want you to talk about where it started and what gave you the idea to create this phenomenal event.

 

Paddy Cosgrave

Well firstly Collision is the little sister of Web Summit, so the first event we created was Web Summit over a decade ago now in Europe, it takes place every year in Lisbon. There are over 70,000 people that come from all over the world. Some years ago, we created an event called Collision in the United States and in 2019 we moved it to Toronto, and it’s grown up a little bit since then. And yeah, it’s been amazing to have a packed house of 30,000, plus maybe 36,000 attendees from 100 plus countries around the world.

Hessie Jones

So let let’s talk a little bit about the impact. So you had a couple of stats there, at 36,000 attendance. What kind of attendance have we had from the countries as well as the penetration of women and startups?

 

Paddy Cosgrave

Well, yeah, women founded startups are about 30% of our thousand kind of 500 exhibiting startups across our different programs are founded by women, which is pretty unbelievable, the highest by far that we’ve ever had. And you know, over 30% of our speakers are women and over 40% of our attendees are women as well, so. Way back in the day, you know, the figures were closer to 10%. They were kind of in single digits across a lot of those categories. And we’ve worked hard. The team have worked hard, especially Carolyn on the Community team to try and change the level of participation. She and her team have done incredibly well.

 

Hessie Jones

So one thing that I found really interesting was that some of the startups like right now we’re, I guess living through some kind of startup winter where investment is down across the board, but you guys had an interesting stat about the number of startups that were Collision and how much they’re faring based compared to the average investment.

 

Paddy Cosgrave

Yeah, I mean, it’s true that startups are at Collision, but it’s a very self-selecting sample set in that tens of thousands of startups apply to be part of the different programs. We then choose what we consider the highest potential startups and then, it’s already biased because of the likelihood that those startups will succeed, as compared to startups in general, it is much higher. You know, I could argue that all of the startups outside of which a fraction of them, small number of them will go on to quite likely be kind of decade defining as startups, even though they’re very small today, were going to succeed, irrespective of whether they came to, you know, to collision or not. So, I would hate to suggest any causation that there is just some degree of correlation.

 

Hessie Jones

 I see that absolutely now. Tell us about this year’s Collision, how it differs from the previous from the perspective of demand for specific topics, people, events, etcetera.

 

Paddy Cosgrave

Crypto Bros are gone. They’ve been replaced by AI sisters in the space of a year. It’s quite incredible. I have never seen a sector burn so brightly and fade so fast as crypto. It is what it is, and similarly AI has sort of gone from something that was absolutely discussed and always kind of quite exciting, but it has ascended to the zenith, the peak of excitement within tech. Will it travel a similar course to crypto over the next year or two? You know, I don’t know. We’ve heard from so many different voices that I’m sure many people will go away with much more nuanced ideas of what AI is, what impact it may have, what dangers it may pose. And we have done our best to have a very broad and diverse set of voices on stage, speaking on AI.

 

Hessie Jones

No, I saw that and I am a big skeptic of the existential threat that Geoffrey Hinton Post, which I thought was a bit ironic because we are talking about a disruption conference and we’re talking about people that are using generative AI to increase productivity, to increase efficiency and then you have the Godfather saying – You are all going to die.

 

Paddy Cosgrave

It’s certainly dramatic. What he has to say, and you cannot just, you know, I think you are right. You know you. It is hard to just rapidly discount it. I’d love to listen to what he had to say. I did not get the opportunity to see him listen to him on stage. I spoke with him in private uh beforehand.  I will watch back that talk you. Know for sure. I’m not so worried personally about the existential threat of AI, but then I’m not an AI expert, so who am I to say?

 

Hessie Jones

Right. OK, so a few more things. Tell us about some of the programs that you guys actually started in the last year, the women in tech, the indigenous program, Amplify. Can you talk a little bit about those things?

 

Paddy Cosgrave

Amplify, and the programs within it, like women in tech, we’ve been running for almost eight years. I think within our conferences, we’ve expanded the number of Community partners we work with. There’s a particular emphasis on indigenous groups and other less represented groups or minorities, including black entrepreneurs, both from Canada and the United States. And you know, Africa. As well, today I I spoke with a a group of black entrepreneurs alongside some Black Canadian leaders, including the first female Black minister. And yeah, they are small programs that are run by Carolyn Quinlan. She does an incredible job. But it is only scratching at the surface. In many cases you’re dealing with deep systemic and structural problems, and you know, a tech conference is not going to solve those. And we do not pretend that we will. But nevertheless, I think there’s a sort of minimal threshold of what any conference should be doing. And we try and you know, play our part.

 

Hessie Jones

OK, that’s great. So, one big announcement that you probably want to make about what is happening… Are you surprised?  What’s happening next year?

 

Paddy Cosgrave

Well, yes. I mean, there has been a lot of debate. You know, I’ve seen tweets that we are moving to Montreal in the future, others that we are going to San Francisco, Chicago. So there have been mayors from cities across Canada here, from Calgary, from Vancouver, and then some more. But next year, we are staying in Toronto. There are lots of great arguments for why we should consider, you know, another Canadian city. Lots of great arguments by Canadians as to why we should never move south over the border and yes, I’d love to, you know, find a way to stay and stay in Canada and, you know, maybe Toronto is the is the right place. Maybe it’s Calgary. Maybe it should be Vancouver. Maybe we should all be in Montreal. I don’t really know, but we will figure it out over the next nine months.

 

Hessie Jones

Was there a specific catalyst that that made that choice Toronto?

 

Paddy Cosgrave

Well, Toronto was down to two people. One was Sunil Sharma, who has spent years coming to our events and was constantly telling me that something was happening in Canada, and we should really do something there. And the second was former mayor of Toronto John Tory; he traveled to our event in Portugal, met with his peer equivalent, the mayor of Lisbon and with the government of Portugal, and understood why they had attracted Web Summit and kept Web Summit in in Portugal, and he was then instrumental in encouraging us choose Toronto. We were pretty much set in San Francisco, a move that we decided we got kind of blowback. It seemed counterintuitive. A lot of Silicon Valley types had never been to Toronto, nor saw any reason to ever be in Toronto, or go to Toronto. So, we faced a, you know, quite a bit of pushback. But I think after the first year, people began to realize that, you know, Toronto is a great place to go, especially in June. There is a lot happening here. Canadian Tech is going from strength to strength. And this is a country and a city where. There are a lot of tech companies that can easily relocate or open up offices. It is incredibly welcoming. Cities in Canada run very well. You know, I don’t want to disparage the United States, but they have got their own significant problems that I do not think Canada has, although Canadians are quick to beat themselves up and be a bit negative on themselves. Anyway, it’s been great here and hopefully we’ll stay here for the future.

 

Hessie Jones

Thank you. So as a fellow Canadian–as a Canadian, I thank you. Thank you for coming here. I thank you for supporting Canadian startups and the Canadian ecosystem and the Canadian economy. So, thank you very much and congratulations on a successful collision 2023.

 

Paddy Cosgrave

Thank you so much. That’s too kind. Far too kind.

Host Information
Hessie Jones

Hessie Jones is an Author, Strategist, Investor and Data Privacy Practitioner, advocating for human-centred AI, education and the ethical distribution of AI in this era of transformation. 

She currently serves as the Innovations Manager at Altitude Accelerator. She provides the necessary support for Altitude Accelerator’s programs including Incubator and Investor Readiness. She will be the liaison among key stakeholders to provide operational support and ultimately drive founder success. 

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