Louisiana’s growing technology sector and New Orleans’ lure as a festive, yet tech-oriented, destination landed the Collision conference, which bills itself as the fastest-growing tech conference in the United States.
New Orleans is expected this week to host more than 10,000 investors, entrepreneurs and writers to the conference that was lured from Las Vegas in large part by the appeal of sandwiching its schedule in the middle of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
Now in its third year, the Collision conference will be Tuesday through Thursday at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. It’s the American version of Web Summit, the massive annual tech industry conference that attracted more than 42,000 attendees last year to Dublin for three days.
“It’s a big deal for New Orleans,” said Chris Schultz, a local entrepreneur who helped bring Collision to New Orleans. He believes it could become “our equivalent of (Austin’s) South by Southwest, done our way and with true New Orleans soul and culture.”
Like Web Summit, Collision brings together investors and entrepreneurs for panel discussions, nightly networking events and prearranged meetings.
Pairing Collision between the two weekends of the city’s signature music and cultural festival was a big draw for its organizers.
“Jazz Fest draws hundreds of thousands of people to the city, but they didn’t really have a business reason to be in the city,” said Schultz, cofounder of Launch Pad, a collaborative workspace in the Warehouse District. “This gives them a reason to dive into our startup ecosystem and be a part of that.”
“We needed to find a home that was going to allow it to grow,” said Mike Harvey, a Web Summit spokesman. “We needed to find a great startup community, a vibrant startup community, that was really beginning to go places.”
Last year, New Orleans was ranked as the second-fastest growing city for growth in knowledge industry jobs, which covers careers in fields such as software publishing, computer system design, custom computer programming and web search portals.
According to the report by Economic Modeling Specialists International, the Crescent City had a 37 percent increase in knowledge jobs from 2007 to 2015. Only Austin, Texas, which had a 52 percent increase, fared better.
Already, Collision has grown from about 1,500 attendees in 2014 to more than 7,500 last year, Harvey said. The annual conference is expected to stay in New Orleans for the foreseeable future, he said.
Collision conference panels will focus mostly on topics involving sports, tech and media — sometimes mixing a few areas and often delving into how it’s being disrupted by new, emerging technologies. Speakers run a gamut of backgrounds, including former NFL quarterback Brett Favre, semi-retired professional wrestler Mick Foley, musician and producer PJ Morton, and Foursquare CEO Jeff Glueck.
The conference culminates with a live-pitch competition where 108 startups were initially selected to present on-stage in front of a judging panel and attendees. From there, 20 advance to the semifinals and are whittled to three, who will present live Friday on Collision’s center stage.
By hosting the conference, local business leaders hope to shine a spotlight on the city’s decadelong push to diversify its tourism-heavy economy and offer out-of-town entrepreneurs a glimpse at what it’s like running a tech company in New Orleans. If they like what they see, the thinking goes, officials could convince them to relocate or open an office in the city.
“Landing this show really puts us into the big time,” said Stephen Perry, president and CEO of the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau.